This is an extraordinary book, a tour de force. So many superlatives:
- It definitely wins my Booker Prize for most intricately plotted.
- Catton was the youngest author to win the Man Booker, at 28.
- At 800+ pages, it is the longest book to win the prize.
The council is assembled to unravel a tangled web of murder, love and betrayal; gold and opium, lost and found; infidelity and bastards. Parallels and doubling abound. The story is explicitly arranged like a zodiac, but implicitly in a spiral, that archetypal shape of New Zealand symbology: the first section is the longest, and each successive section is shorter and shorter, until we are rushing headlong down a vortex to the dizzying center. Catton highlights the technique with humor: the italicized summaries at the beginning of each chapter, relics of a previous literary era, grow and grow until they are longer and more informative than the chapters themselves. So much subtle cleverness.
I hope Catton publishes again soon. She is at the top of my list of Booker winners to watch.