Jim Crace Posts

Eleanor Catton’s win celebrates the importance of literary craft and content

Eleanor Catton’s win celebrates the importance of literary craft and content

My article on the Man Booker Prize 2013 has been published today in the Op Ed page of the Hindu, 19 Oct 2013. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-long-and-winding-road-to-the-booker/article5248697.ece?homepage=true . The article is published below.) 

The Luminaries

On October 15, 2013, the Man Booker Prize was awarded to Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries — a thriller spread over 800 pages with a variety of voices recounting and recreating details. It was a win that surprised many. Set in 1866 in a small town on New Zealand’s South Island, the story begins when a traveller and gold prospector, Scotsman Walter Moody, interrupts a meeting of 12 men at Hokitika’s Crown Hotel. These men are immigrants but locals now who gather in secrecy to solve crimes. The novel is about the mystery surrounding the death of Crosbie Wells and the stories told by those 12 men. The narrative architecture is based on the 12 signs of the zodiac and the seven planets; each chapter is half the length of its predecessor, adding pace and tension. Of the books shortlisted — Jim Crace’s Harvest, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, and Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names — it was widely assumed that the battle for the winning post would be between Jim Crace and Colm Toibin.

The Luminaries is in the tradition of a good, well-told, 19th century English novel. It has a leisurely pace with the story slowly being told, bit by bit. Eleanor Catton has trained at the best creative writing schools and is an alumna of the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But this novel is an example of original thinking and excellent craftsmanship that are not easily taught.

The chair of judges, Robert Macfarlane, described the book as a “dazzling work, luminous, vast.” It is, he said, “a book you sometimes feel lost in, fearing it to be ‘a big baggy monster’, but it turns out to be as tightly structured as an orrery.” It is true that the 19th century novels were serialised (for example Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope) and then put together as a book. Present day writers are taking advantage of virtual publishing to do something similar. The Kills by Richard House, long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2013, actually began life as four enhanced e-books that were then published as a single printed volume. But in the 21st century, to first publish in print such a thick book as The Luminaries takes extraordinary courage — a fact that did not go unnoticed even by Catton. In her acceptance speech she said, “… The Luminaries is and was from the very beginning, a publisher’s nightmare. […] I am extraordinarily fortunate to have found a home at these publishing houses and to […] have managed to strike an elegant balance between making art and making money.”


At 28, Eleanor Catton is the youngest winner of the Booker. (Before her the prize went to Ben Okri who won it when he was 32 for The Famished Road.) Catton was born in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Booker is Britain’s most prestigious literary prize, awarded annually to a novelist from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country. The winner receives £50,000, or about $80,000. The winner is selected by the judging panel on the day of the ceremony. In September 2013, it was announced that from next year the prize will be open to all those publishing in English, across the world, a move that has not necessarily been received well by many writers. Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the foundation, wrote at the time: “Paradoxically it has not […] allowed full participation to all those writing literary fiction in English. It is rather as if the Chinese were excluded from the Olympic Games.”

It is a fortunate coincidence that in 2013, three of the high-profile international awards for literature have been won by women — all for very distinct kinds of writing. Lydia Davis won the fifth Man Booker International Prize 2013 for her short stories (the length of her stories vary from two sentences to a maximum of two to three pages) and the Nobel Prize for Literature 2013 to Alice Munro, for her short stories and Eleanor Catton, Man Booker Prize 2013, for a novel that has been described as a “doorstopper.” For the world of publishing, these achievements sets the seal of approval on craftsmanship. It is probably recognition of geographical boundaries disappearing in digital space, conversations happening in real time and emphasis being placed on good content. It’s not the form but the craft that matters. Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize win is a testament to the new world of publishing.

(Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist. E-mail:jayabhattacharjirose @gmail.com)

19 Oct 2013

Jim Crace, “Harvest”

Jim Crace, “Harvest”



“…life should be allowed to proceed in its natural and logical order.” (p.226)Jim Crace, Harvest

Philip Crace’s novel Harvest is set in 16C England. At a time when unenclosed commons were being converted into enclosures, owned by an individual. It was a sweeping agricultural change that was changing the character of the villages and a way of life familiar to villagers. Harvest is narrated by Walter Thirsk, an outsider to the village who was brought here when his master, Master Kent, married the daughter of the manor. Twelve years on, both the men are widowers, and within seven days there is a massive transformation in the village that they had begun to know well. With the arrival of strangers — a couple, including a woman with a magnetic personality, a chart maker, and the new owner of the manor who had come to stake his claim– there is utter confusion in the small community. In the space of seven days the village and its community is destroyed, the houses burnt to rubble and the people have fled.

It is probably no coincidence that there are very strong Biblical parallels in the story and in the imagery used. If Jim Crace had not made it clear in an interview ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/jim-crace-author-of-bookershortlisted-quarantine-im-leaving-craceland-8488415.html ) that he has never read any novels by Thomas Hardy, I could have sworn that the landscape he has created is very Hardy-esque. The form and structure is so reserved and sophisticated, at times you miss the violence and destruction that it is conveying — the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, the disappearance of the women and the five-year-old Gleaning Queen, the unnecessary brutal slaughter of Master Kent’s horse, the burning of the manor, the near lynching of Master Jordan’s groom etc.

Harvest is on the ManBooker shortlist. The winner will be announced on 15 Oct 2013. My bet is that this novel will be a strong contender.

Jim Crace Harvest Picador, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 275 £ 12.99

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