Eleanor Catton a New Zealand Writer

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Having analysed the array of famous writers and novelists of 20th and 21st century, there can be found such distinguished authors like Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Edwin King, John Grisham or Olga Tokarczuk. The list of names is very long and contains men and women of letters from all over the world.

What is New Zealand famous for? Polish geography lessons mostly concentrate on the Pacific Ocean, active volcanoes, picturesque mountains, glaciers and fjords. What is more, stunning flora, especially evergreens and endemic fauna. Among rare species of animals, kiwi birds command the biggest attention. Historical classes remind us about New Zealand’s first settlers called Maori people who had an important impact on culture. When talking about New Zealand, the literature cannot be omitted. Recent years have brought some awards in this field thanks to a young writer Eleanor Catton.

Eleanor Catton is a New Zealand novelist who was born in 1985 in Canada. She represents a new generation of writers. Her childhood was spent in Canada where her father completed his doctoral degree. After moving to New Zealand, a new stage in Catton’s life began. The biographical notes indicates that the writer graduated from the University of Canterbury then the Victoria University of Wellington where her participation in a Creative Writing class finally led to her first piece of work. (Internet Source 1).

Catton is an author of a few novels, short stories and screenplays. The second book, The Luminaries, was created then published in 2013. The story was awarded and received one of the most prestigious literary prizes called The Booker Prize. Moreover, The Luminaries is set in New Zealand in the mid of 19th century. Methodologically, the book resembles a chest of drawers. While approaching to the end of the novel, the plot becomes clearer as drawers seems to be like a solid construction completing the story. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the first chapters is full of mystery and confusion. There may be a great puzzle for readers. However, the narration walks us through different plots.

The Luminaries describe the Gold Rush in New Zealand. The existence of this valuable metal was a great opportunity to make a fortune, especially by poor people, including criminals. The main character of The Luminaries is Walter Moody, an English lawyer and a prospector, who arrives to Hokitika to dig gold. His stay in the Crown Hotel makes him stumble on twelve local men who take him into a complex mystery involved in unsolved crimes. Another plot is a flame love between Anne Wetherell, an explorer, and Emery Staines. Stolen treasures, revenge, murders, prostitution, love, betrayal are only a part of this mysterious plot.

When choosing a book, one of the selections can be a title then a cover. The title The Luminaries gives consideration what the book is about, especially it is strengthened with a cover demonstrating the moon in different positions. According to the Cambridge Dictionary (on line version) a luminary is “person who is famous and important in a particular area of activity” (Internet Source 5). The suggestion is easy as excavators, looking for gold, may be treated as luminaries. However, the meaning of the title is also symbolic. The usage of the solar system symbols let show a deeper sense. A good illustration can be two citations concerning two characters: Anne Wetherell and Emery Staines:

It’s very important that the reader understand those characters’ relationships to the heavenly luminaries, since it sheds a lot of, well, light on their relationships with the rest of the characters and to the plot. (Internet Source 6).

Similarly, having Anna and Emery associated with the sun and the moon draws attention to their close interdependent relationship, which Lydia Wells makes explicit later when, after meeting Emery, she realizes that Anna ‘may have an astral soul-mate. (Internet Source 6)

The solar system becomes also a background for inner changes of the characters. The personalities of the characters evaluate. Sky and its objects symbolise the better future which is required by book heroes. There is one more astrological association. The belief that signs of the horoscope reveal human’s features, the zodiac completes the profiles of particular characters. Another correlation connected with the number of signs goes with the number of the local men in a story.

In many interviews Catton states that there happen the statements that The Luminaries are “a complex literary experiment” (Internet source 2) or “a mask confabulasion” (Internet Source 4). The author of the book admits that her inspiration for writing such a story comes from her own fondness for the Gold Rush and New Zealand as a country of legends and myths. Undoubtedly, her active imagination was trigged also by fortunetellers and magicians who were typical for the era.

The following topics spirited her interest. (Internet Source 2). When doing a research as a preparation to write The Luminaries, 19th century newspapers and books had to be read and analysed by her. In fact, Catton was “so taken by a kind of spirit by the age”. (Internet source 2). What is more, the history course about New Zealand during her studies helped fire the idea for the subject of a new book.

There were some attempts to look for similarities between The Luminaries, as a contemporary written novel treating the problem of the Gold Rush, and stories from Victorian times. Although the young writer settled her story on Victorian era, there are features that pinpoint an up-to–date work.

Catton has utilized the historical novel genre (previously done to perfection by Booker luminary Hilary Mantel) as the basis for a novel which interrogates our own notions of storytelling, history and the vagaries of personal or national memory. (Internet Source 3).

Summing up this paragraph, The Luminaries novel is a combination of an adventurous, sensation and fiction book. Eleanor Catton is also a writer of Birnam Wood (still not published) and Rehearsal. Both novels have a psychological background. The Rehearsal is a story about sexual abuse of the teacher of saxophone on his teenager student.

But when the local drama school decides to turn the scandal into a play, the boundaries between fact and fantasy soon break down as dramas both real and imagined begin to unfold. (Internet Source 7). The Rehearsal is not only a portrait of adolescence but mostly an example of manipulation, pretending and social masks.

Eleanor Catton, chosen by me as a writer of the century, commands attention with her output. As a writer of a new generation the novelist has become quite popular in English speaking countries.. Having watched the interviews with her, the ways her ideas are coined, data collected, information checked and then her stories created, underlines her professional approach and hardworking personality. Her proposal of the mixture of genres so types of literature requires an attentive and perceptive reader. Catton endears with her engagement in a contemporary literature.

In the interview in “Audiovisual Library of Writers” the novelist shares with us how to build a good book. According to her, “narrative forms should speak to the needs and desire of the present” (Internet Source 8). Undoubtedly, Catton’s personal attitude to life has a big impact on her stories. Feminism and anti-imperialism take a main place in her philosophy.


Cite this paper

Eleanor Catton a New Zealand Writer. (2021, Aug 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/eleanor-catton-a-new-zealand-writer/



How long did it take Eleanor Catton to write The Luminaries?
Eleanor Catton wrote The Luminaries over the course of eight years.
Is Eleanor Catton writing a new book?
Eleanor Catton is not currently writing a new book, but she has said that she has several ideas for future projects.
Is The Luminaries based on a book?
Yes, The Luminaries is based on a book. The book was written by Eleanor Catton and published in 2013.
Who is the youngest female writer to win the Booker Prize?
The movie was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia.
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