Skip to content
Catton, Eleanor
Author photo: Ebony Lamb
Writer's File

Eleanor Catton

Catton, Eleanor
Author photo: Ebony Lamb
In brief
Eleanor Catton is a novelist and screenwriter currently living in the United Kingdom. Her first novel The Rehearsal was released in New Zealand (Te Herenga Waka Press, 2008) and the UK (Granta, 2009), and has since been translated into numerous languages. She was winner of the 2007 Sunday Star-Times short story competition, the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship, and best first book of fiction in the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, now known as the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The Rehearsal won the UK Society of Authors Betty Trask Award, and it was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award and the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.


Catton, Eleanor (1985 - ) was born in Canada and raised in Canterbury. In 2007, she won the Sunday Star-Times short story competition, and in the same year she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington, winning the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for her manuscript, The Rehearsal.

Eleanor Catton won the audience award at Once Upon a Deadline, a one-day story contest in the 2008 NZ International Arts Festival Writers and Readers Week, and she was awarded the 2008 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary. Catton was the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship through which she attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has been published in a range of journals, and magazines, including Turbine, Sport and Granta.

Her first novel, The Rehearsal was published in 2008 by Te Herenga Waka Press (then-Victoria University Press), and by Granta (UK) in 2009. The Rehearsal received the New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction at the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, now known as the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Louise O'Brien described Catton in NZ Listener as ‘a new talent who has arrived fully formed, with an accomplished, confident and mature voice’.

In June 2009, The Rehearsal won the UK Society of Authors' Betty Trask Award worth £8,000. The Rehearsal was also long-listed for theGuardian First Book Award. The Rehearsal has also been translated and published in Holland, France, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Spain, Germany, Israel and Brazil.

Justine Jordan wrote in The Guardian, ‘this astonishing debut novel from young New Zealander Eleanor Catton is a cause for surprise and celebration: smart, playful and self-possessed, it has the glitter and mystery of the true literary original. Though its impulses and methods can only be called experimental, the prose is so arresting, the storytelling so seductive, that wherever the book falls open it's near-impossible to put down.’

Melissa Katsoulis of the The Times comments, ‘timeframes overlap and collide in this ingenious ontological kaleidoscope of a debut, but the experimentalism — which demands that the reader keep all her wits about her — is tempered by a real knack for narrative and a cast of painfully familiar teenage characters who are all desperate to be as confident, cool, charismatic and funny as possible. These are qualities that the extraordinary Eleanor Catton has in spades.’

Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal was longlisted for the prestigious 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, now known as the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, honouring female authors in the English language. It also won the 2010 First Novel Award.

Catton was a 2010 Arts Foundation New Generation Award recipient and was awarded the 2012 University of Auckland Residency at the Michael King Writers' Centre.

Eleanor Catton's second novel The Luminaries was published by Te Herenga Waka Press and Granta in 2013, and won the prestigious 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Catton won the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for The Luminaries in 2013. The Luminaries was a finalist in the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

The Luminaries won the Fiction award and People's Choice award in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards, now known as the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. It has also been shortlisted for the 2014 International Dylan Thomas Prize.

In the wake of her Man Booker Prize win, Catton came under fire for her controversial comments regarding the state of New Zealand’s intellectual and creative culture. She spoke on the subject to Livemint: 'we have this strange cultural phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome”; if you stand out, you will be cut down (…) If you get success overseas then very often the local population can suddenly be very hard on you. Or the other problem is that the local population can take ownership of that success in a way that is strangely proprietal.'

Her remarks on the “neo-liberal, profit-obsessed” politicians of New Zealand elicited a pejorative response from Prime Minister John Key, thus inciting Catton to form her own written defence against 'the frightening swiftness with which the powerful right move to discredit and silence those who question them.'

In 2014, Catton delivered the annual Read NZ Pānui (then the Book Council Lecture) at the 2014 New Zealand Festival Writers Week, 'On Craft: Paradox and Change.'

In February 2015 Catton was made an honorary literary fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors’ annual Waitangi Day Honours.

In 2015, Catton established the Horoeka/Lancewood Reading Grant to give New Zealand writers a chance to share what they have read with other creatives.

The Rehearsal was adapted to screen by Alison Maclean in 2016, in a film which debuted at the New Zealand Film Festival.

The Luminaries was adapted into a six-part TV miniseries by BBC and produced by Working Title Television, with a screenplay by Catton. The six-episode TVNZ and BBC series debuted on 17 May 2020.

Catton also wrote the screenplay for the 2020 film version of Emma, adapted from Jane Austen's novel.

Catton's third novel, Birnam Wood, was released in February 2023. It was shortlisted for the 2023 Giller Prize, featured in The Guardian's "The best fiction of 2023" and The Atlantic's "The 10 Best Books of 2023". It was also listed on Barack Obama's 2023 Summer reading list. It is longlisted for the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Jann Medlicott Prize for Fiction.

February 2024
February 2024