Congratulations Eleanor Catton

 

The wonderful news has just hit the media – Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker award for her novel, The Luminaries.

This will be life changing for her and sets her career on a path to writing success for the rest of her life. She joins Keri Hulme as the only New Zealander to achieve this success and Lloyd Jones who was short listed. And to top it off she is the youngest to ever win it so what can we expect from her in the years to come? I wonder if she will join serial winners like Hilary Mantel and J M Coetzee. These writers are the best in the world and it is wonderful to have New Zealanders among them.

It is no surprise she has won.

Consider this passage: Moody was not at all unaware of the advantage his inscrutable grace afforded him. Like most excessively beautiful persons he had spent many hours gazing at his own reflection, and in a way, knew himself from the outside best; he was always in some chamber of his mind perceiving himself from the exterior.

What perfect crafting and understanding of her character this shows. The reader becomes involved with the person and we forget that this is someone else describing a character. Instead we enter the place where Moody exists and stand beside him.

In the media she makes many insightful comments but the one that really struck a chord with me was her observation that New Zealanders could ‘feel confident that our stories are worth telling.’

It has always struck me that in a nation of over 4 million people we have shied away from telling stories that might be politically sensitive. If not that we have told  only those stories that favour our own cultural histories and reinforce familiar stereotypes or we step right away from New Zealand and tell stories that are based in other countries.

There is no question she has joined a group of extraordinarily brilliant authors. I began reading the winners and those shortlisted many years ago and as I think about them I can recall the superb crafting of the story lines and the characters that strode across the page. I will never forget the way I held my breath as I read, ‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwen waiting for or rather hoping that Florence and Edward would overcome their difficulties which to an observer seem unnecessarily complicated but superbly portrayed so that we believe in their complexity. Compared to this was the intricate weaving of two stories superbly crafted by Lloyd Jones’, ‘Mr Pip’ which I was sure was going to win the Booker that year. What a marvellous read that was. The thing I love about these authors is their ability to take life’s incidents, just as Anne Enright (that year’s winner) did in ‘The Gathering’ and give us insights into ourselves, our complexity and how a slight misunderstanding, or mistimed encounter leads to a series of events that turn lives upside down, cause misunderstandings and decisions which make us cry out from the side line, ‘oh that isn’t what was meant,’ or ‘if only that had not happened’ but of course it is the very fact it did that makes the story compelling.

I remember a tutorial at University on  ‘Othello’ and observing that Desdemona’s death did not have to occur but for the frailty of Othello in the form is misplaced jealousy and gullibility and a series of mistimed events. At the centre of the entire trauma was an innocuous object – a handkerchief. Again, as a reader I wanted to shout, ‘Othello, don’t ‘be a fool. Cassio is not to be trusted.’

When a writer achieves that effect in a reader we know we are reading a truly great piece of work.

Although I have yet to read Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’ I can already see that she has portrayed a flawed character whose expectations of himself and how he wants the world to see him will lead to an uneasy balancing between his inner reality and the outer world.

I look forward to reading it very much.

Comments

I agree with you Suraya - about the need for brilliantly crafted writers - we need their voice. The different media barraged us on a daily basis with mediocrity as the norm. The danger of mediocrity is that many people will not only stop enjoying reading, but stop reading altogether. What a weaker globally community we will have when mediocrity rules. Thanks for your insights into the power of excellent word crafting, the shifting of souls to new horizons of potential.