New Zealander Eleanor Catton yesterday won the Man Booker Trophy, only the second Kiwi to take away literature’s most fought-over prize.
Catton overcame a brutal and competitive field that included past finalists Colm Toibin and Jim Crace.
Though lacking experience at this top level, she managed in the end to produce more words than all of her fellow finalists.
The contest was not determined entirely by word count, but Catton’s relentless prose proved too powerful for the others in the field, and in the end the margin of victory was a comfortable one.
Catton said she was thrilled with her victory.
“Yeah nah I’m stoked, bloody stoked actually. I still can’t believe I won the thing. It’s all a bit surreal, yeah.”
Catton paid tribute in her after-match speech to her management team, including her coaches and support personnel.
“Today was a real team effort, and we went out there and gave it everything.
“I just want to say to Fergo [Fergus Barrowman], Jonesy [Philip Gwyn Jones] and Ziggy [Sigrid Rausing] that you guys are total legends.
“Sozza [Sarah Holloway] and Maxey [Max Porter], you guys did awesome work on the sidelines, and Dawno [Caroline Dawnay], you have just been on fire all season.”
Catton said she was looking forward to taking a break during the off-season, before getting back into competitive writing.
“The long season takes its toll on the body, to be honest,” said Catton. “I’ve been nursing a few niggling injuries this year, but with all the fixtures associated with the Man Booker there’s just been no time to properly recover.”
A member of Catton’s coaching team, Fergus Barrowman, said her victory was the product of an immense amount of hard work.
“Cattsy is incredibly focused and dedicated,” said Barrowman. “She probably trains harder than any other writer in our squad, and she’s always the last to leave the gym.
“The thing I like about Cattsy’s game is she’s got that bit of mongrel you need to survive at this top level. She doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff, but she’s not dumb about it either. Her opponents on the field both respect and fear her.
“The amazing thing about her is she’s only going to get better at this game. She could be one of the greats.”
This was confirmed by beaten finalist Colm Toibin, who spoke of his admiration for Catton.
“Mate, I’m gutted to lose, absolutely gutted,” said Toibin, “but you have to take your hat off to the woman. I gave it everything, but she still had the gas at the end.
“She’s lifted the bar for everyone else in this sport. Next season we’re all going to have to be writing eight hundred pages minimum, just to be competitive. She’s a writing machine.”
Betting agencies are already picking that Catton will successfully defend her title next year, but the writer says she is not focusing too much on the future right now, and she remains uncertain who she will turn out for next season.
“Look, I’ll have a think about it over the summer. I’ve had a few offers, but at this stage I’m still just enjoying the moment, and I’m not really thinking too far ahead.”