ELEANOR CATTON’S second novel, “The Luminaries”, an historical murder mystery structured around the signs of the zodiac, received a cosmic boost last night when it won the Man Booker prize, an important award for fiction in English.
At 28, Ms Catton is the youngest author ever to win the 45-year-old prize. And at 832 pages, Luminaries” is the longest winner.
The Luminaries” is set in a town called Hokitika, a Maori word that means “around and then back again”, which offers a clue to the book’s real framework. Twenty characters, every one fully formed, fill the story in 20 chapters, each half the length of the one before and offering what Ms Catton calls “a prismatic view” of events. The plot is based on the signs of the zodiac, a post-modern circular mystery that is astrologically precise and encompasses whores and drunkards, hidden gold, ships and séances, a murder and a lot of mud and bad weather.
Man Booker 2013 shorlist:
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
A remarkable literary debut — shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize! The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Granta)
Harvest by Jim Crace (Picador)
On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner’s table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion.
One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master’s outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village’s entire way of life.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.
Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Penguin)
Provocative, haunting, and indelible, Colm Tóibín’s portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.
In the ancient town of Ephesus, Mary lives alone, years after her son’s crucifixion. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel—her keepers, who provide her with food and shelter and visit her regularly. She does not agree that her son is the Son of God; nor that his death was “worth it;” nor that the “group of misfits he gathered around him, men who could not look a woman in the eye,” were holy disciples. Mary judges herself ruthlessly (she did not stay at the foot of the Cross until her son died—she fled, to save herself), and is equally harsh on her judgment of others. This woman who we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes, in Toibin’s searing evocation, a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. This tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that our image of Mary will be forever transformed.
How many of the shortlist did You Read? Do you agree with the judge’s choice?