Now this really is a big book, in every way. Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and holds the title of the longest book to win that award. It really does take some reading, although, the feeling I got on completing the book was one of satisfaction. Reading this was a rewarding experience. Set in 1866 in New Zealand’s gold mining district where a group of twelve men meet to put together their stories of a rogue sea captain, a prostitute and the death of a hermit, later found to be rich. It is a densely plotted, shifting book with a swirling pattern of events and narratives, likened probably (although I admit to being a little vague on this aspect)to the night sky and astrological patterns. That aspect of the novel, the occasional chart and astrological chapter headings didn’t really grip me and I didn’t feel that it added to the experience of the novel. As a literary device it felt a little too artificial. What did grip me, however, were the memorable characters and the authentic feel of the novel. It did feel very much like a lost piece of mid-Victoriana. Perhaps most impressive was the author’s skill in leading us through her lengthy involved work with its twists and turns without getting the reader lost. I recently read a shorter, Man Booker 2014 shortlisted novel which would have benefited from Catton’s skill with this. It is ambitious, brave, literary and an unsurprising winner. However, I still harbour this lingering feeling that I had missed out on something (it’s the astrology theme again), that there was something allegorical I hadn’t been able to decode. I’ll keep it on the shelves for a re-read, but because of its length it won’t be for a while!
I’ve just had a look at the previous winners of the Booker Prize (first awarded 1969) and have discovered I have read just twelve of them, which isn’t a particularly impressive total. I’ve read six of them this century, which is a little better but most of the earlier books have passed me by.
My top three Booker Prize winners
- Sacred Hunger – Barry Unsworth (1992)
- Line Of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
- The Life Of Pi – Yann Martell (2002)
with honourable mentions to Peter Carey, Margaret Attwood and Iris Murdoch.