BooksJacket Copy

Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton targets literary sexism

AuthorsArts and Culture

Running on a mere 2½ hours of sleep and exactly 12 hours after winning the Man Booker Prize for her novel “The Luminaries,” Eleanor Catton sat down for an interview with the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins and brought her A game.

The 28-year-old novelist from New Zealand, the youngest ever to win the prize, addressed the critics who have approached her complex novel with trite assumptions about gender.

Catton said the "people whose negative reaction [to 'The Luminaries'] has been most vehement have all been men over about 45." She went on to say that there seems to be a misconception by some men of a certain generation that her gender and relative youth have bearing on the book -- more than 800 pages long -- itself. There is, she said, "a sense of irritation from some critics -- that I have been so audacious to have taken up people's time by writing a long book. There's a sense in there of: 'Who do you think you are? You can't do that.' ”

Other young women whose literary achievements have catapulted them into the spotlight have faced similar biases. In 2000, Zadie Smith, whose first book, “White Teeth”, was published when she was 25, was dubbed an international “Girl Wonder.”

"I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel," Catton says. "In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are -- about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime."

Her comments echo the minor storm that followed a Publisher's Weekly interview with Claire Messud earlier this year in which the author was asked about the likability of the protagonist of "The Woman Upstairs." Messud's startled reply, which included a list of indelible, unlikable male literary characters (Humbert Humbert, Hamlet and Oscar Wao), sparked a discussion of the different expectations put on male and female writers and the characters they create.

“The Luminaries” is the longest book to win the Man Booker; Catton, the prize's youngest winner, has created a work of complexity her critics didn't expect. She told the Guardian, "There's a feeling of: 'All right, we can tolerate [this] from a man over 50, but we are not going to be spoken to like that by you.' "

ALSO:

PEN's Joan Didion event only lacked Joan Didion

Listening to Gregory Rabassa, the translator's translator

Self-published pornographic e-books cause trouble for Amazon, Kobo

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
AuthorsArts and Culture
  • Nobel Prize in literature winners
    Nobel Prize in literature winners

    The Nobel Prize in literature is awarded (almost) every fall to a writer for his or her body of work, and is considered the world's most prestigious literary award. The winner receives a medal and a cash prize of about $1.1 million.

  • Malala doesn't win Nobel Peace Prize -- and the Taliban celebrates
    Malala doesn't win Nobel Peace Prize -- and the Taliban celebrates

    Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager and outspoken proponent of the right of girls and young women to be educated, survived being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in 2012. But as if attempted murder wasn't bad enough -- now the Taliban is proving to be a bad sport too.

  • Patrick Modiano's 'Suspended Sentences': Mysteries of existential sort
    Patrick Modiano's 'Suspended Sentences': Mysteries of existential sort

    When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature in October, a lot of readers (myself included) were taken by surprise. Until now, he has been relatively unknown in the U.S., although he is a bestseller in his native France and winner of the Prix Goncourt who has published steadily since...

  • 'Case for Sustainable Meat' takes on many sacred cows
    'Case for Sustainable Meat' takes on many sacred cows

    When food guru Michael Pollan recently tweeted in support of Nicolette Hahn Niman's new book, "Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production," the protest that followed made it perfectly obvious why such a book is necessary. "A Cattle Rancher wrote a book about how free range,...

  • Daniel Handler announces donation to diverse children's book campaign
    Daniel Handler announces donation to diverse children's book campaign

    Author Daniel Handler, best known by his pen name Lemony Snicket, has again apologized for a racial joke he told at the National Book Awards, and is matching donations to an organization that promotes diversity in children's literature.

  • The personal, provocative on display in fall photo books
    The personal, provocative on display in fall photo books

    Photography books tend to come in two distinct flavors: collections focused on a favorite subject or celebrity and those where authorship of the images is the essential point. Some of the best of this season fall squarely into the latter category — the more personal or provocative the...

Comments
Loading