LONDON — Youth and heft triumphed at Britain’s Booker Prize yesterday, as 28-year-old New Zealander Eleanor Catton won the fiction award for “The Luminaries,” an ambitious 832-page murder mystery set during a 19th-century gold rush.
The choice should give heart to young authors of oversized tales. Catton is the youngest writer and only the second New Zealander to win the prestigious award — and her epic novel is easily the longest Booker champion.
Catton said after accepting the award that she didn’t think about the length of the book while she was writing it, “partly because I was inside it for the whole time.”
“It wasn’t until I received the proof of the book that I thought, ‘Jeepers, this is actually quite heavy,’” she said. “I’ve had to buy a new handbag, because my old handbag wasn’t big enough to hold my book.”
She thanked her British publisher, Granta, for protecting her from feeling the commercial pressures around a tome that could be seen as “a publisher’s nightmare.”
Travel writer Robert Macfarlane, who chaired the judging panel, called “The Luminaries” ‘‘dazzling,” ‘‘luminous” and “vast without being sprawling.”
“It is beautifully intricate without being fussy,” Macfarlane said. “It is experimental ... but does not by any means neglect the traditional virtues of storytelling.”
Catton had been bookmakers’ joint favorite among the six prize finalists, alongside British novelist Jim Crace, for his rural parable “The Harvest.” She also beat Ireland’s Colm Toibin, Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri, Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo and Canada’s Ruth Ozeki.
Catton received her trophy, which comes with a 50,000 pound ($80,000) check, from Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, during a dinner ceremony at London’s medieval Guildhall.
“The Luminaries” centers on a man named Walter Moody who comes to a New Zealand prospecting town in 1866 and finds himself immersed in a web of saloons, seances and skullduggery.