‘When I finished it, I felt immortal’: How Eleanor Catton wrote The Luminaries
To mark the 10th anniversary of her Booker win, Eleanor Catton and her editor Max Porter discuss the book’s exhilarating journey towards publication and the prize
Won the 2013 Booker Prize. Eleanor Catton’s fiendishly clever novel is both a ghost story and gripping mystery, it richly evokes a mid-19th century world of goldrush boom and bust.
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
At 832 pages, The Luminaries is the longest winning novel in the Booker Prize’s history.
About the AuthorEleanor Catton won the Booker Prize in 2013. She was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She is the author of two internationally celebrated novels: The Rehearsal and The Luminaries.
It is complex in its design, yet accessible in its narrative and prose. Its plot is engrossing in own right, but an awareness of the structure working behind it deepens one’s pleasure and absorption
In a piece for the BBC, Catton revealed she had written ‘perhaps 200 drafts of the first episode alone’ by the time the show started filming in late 2018.
‘Throughout the shoot, the scripts continued to change in order to fit the budget and the schedule, both of which got tighter by the day,’ wrote Catton. ‘This was often heartbreaking - a novelist never has to cut a scene they think is working! But it could be exhilarating too, as when the set design introduced new possibilities for action, or when the actors had ideas for improvements to their scenes.’
In an interview, Catton said the show departed ‘so much from the book that I think of it more as a companion piece than as a straightforward adaptation’.
The adaptation aired on the BBC in 2020 and starred Eva Green, Himesh Patel and Eve Hewson.
That year’s ceremony also marked the first time HRH The Duchess of Cornwall attended the event. “The annual announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is the highlight of the literary calendar, and as a passionate reader myself, I’m delighted to be here,” she said.
Catton’s The Luminaries was on a shortlist with The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and Harvest by Jim Crace.