| 2.1°C Belfast

Catton is youngest Booker winner


Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize, with the Duchess of Cornwall and Robert Macfarlane, chair of judges

Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize, with the Duchess of Cornwall and Robert Macfarlane, chair of judges

Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize, with the Duchess of Cornwall and Robert Macfarlane, chair of judges

The author who became the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker Prize tonight said the achievement has not sunk in.

Eleanor Catton, 28, was presented with the award - widely seen as the UK's most prestigious literary prize - for her novel The Luminaries at a ceremony at London's Guildhall.

Asked how she felt to be the youngest winner, she said she did not think about her age.

"I feel very honoured and proud to be living in a world where the facts of somebody's biography doesn't give them a way of how people read their work, and I think that's true of age and also of ethnicity and all sort of other features of being human," she said.

Speaking about how it felt to hear she had won, she told a press conference: "It was just a white wall, I don't really remember."

The New Zealander said she did not know what she would do with the £50,000 prize and was not sure if her family back home would know she had won as none of them has a television.

At 832 pages, her book is also the longest to win, beating five other shortlisted writers.

The novel, described as "dazzling" by chairman of judges Robert Macfarlane, tells the story of Walter Moody, who is drawn into a mystery when he attempts to make his fortune in New Zealand's goldfields in the mid-1800s.

Described as a "Kiwi Twin Peaks", it is Canada-born Catton's second novel, with her first - The Rehearsal - being longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2010.

Macfarlane said: "The Luminaries is a magnificent novel. Awesome in its structural complexity, addictive in its storytelling and magical in its conjuring of a world of greed and gold."

Macfarlane said he and the four other judges spent just under two hours in "pretty tough discussion" before agreeing on the winner, with no vote being needed.

"The story is quite exceptionally compelling," he said.

"It is vast, it is experimental.

"We have returned to it three times. We have dug into it, to use its own metaphor, and the yield it has offered at each new reading has been extraordinary.

"It is astonishing. It is the longest novel ever to win the Man Booker prize by the youngest author ever to win, though these facts did not at all play in our decision.

"Catton was just 25 when she started writing the novel and 27 when she completed it."

Ben Okri, 32, was the previous youngest winner in 1991 while Kiran Desai, 35, was the youngest woman to take the prize in 2006.

Catton beat bookies' favourite, British author Jim Crace, who had said his offering Harvest would be his final novel.

He was ranked at 5/4 by William Hill while there had been a late surge of support for Catton, making her the 11/4 second favourite.

The other shortlisted novels were Irish writer Colm Toibin's 101-page The Testament Of Mary; We Need New Names, the debut novel of Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer prize winner who lives in the United States but also holds UK citizenship, and A Tale For The Time Being by Canadian-American writer Ruth Ozeki.

The shortlisted authors, who were selected from 152 entries, go away with a £2,500 prize.

The Duchess of Cornwall presented the award to Catton.

Camilla, who is patron of the National Literacy Trust and Book Trust and a keen advocate of reading for children, described the event as the "highlight of the literary calendar".

In a speech ahead of the prize giving, she said: "The whole point of this prize is not just to reward the masters of well-honed prose, but to celebrate the astonishing and intoxicating breadth, depth and beauty of the written word.

"I get as much pleasure reading to my grandchildren as I do getting lost in my own favourite writers. The power of great literature is immense, a key to other kingdoms, an escape from the dull and mundane.

"And many will discover this great and lifelong pleasure thanks to the Man Booker Prize."

But yesterday novelist Julian Barnes warned the award will become less likely to showcase up and coming talent and predicted British writers will fare less well in future as the prize is opened up to US writers from next year.

Barnes - a former winner for The Sense Of An Ending in 2011 - said he considered the changes to be a "bad idea" and appeared to be the result of trying to cash in on a new international market.

In an interview for BBC Radio 3's Essential Classics, he said: "I was surprised because I had never heard anyone in the publishing world talk in favour of such a move.

"I don't know quite where it came from - maybe from the top. Maybe it's just an example of capitalist expansionism.

"Eligibility changes announced last month open the prize up to any novel originally written in English and published in the UK, regardless of the author's nationality."

It had previously largely been restricted to the Commonwealth.The award, which launched in 1969, was won last year by Hilary Mantel who made history with Bring Up The Bodies, becoming the first woman and the first British author to win the prize twice.