WELLINGTON - Champagne corks popped as New Zealanders celebrated author Eleanor Catton becoming the youngest ever Man Booker prize winner Wednesday, with retailers reporting her novel "The Luminaries" was "walking out the door".
Perhaps inevitably in the rugby-mad nation, some Kiwis likened the 28-year-old's feat in snaring the prestigious prize for fiction to winning the literary equivalent of the World Cup.
Others hailed the emergence of a major new talent following the Booker presentation in London, which took place on Wednesday morning New Zealand time, drawing large crowds to bookshops, which screened the event live. Prime Minister John Key led the tributes, moving a parliamentary vote congratulating Catton for becoming only the second New Zealander after Keri Hulme in 1985 to win the Booker.
"New Zealand generally celebrates our sporting successes on the international stage with enormous vigour," he told parliament. "We should be celebrating this with equal enthusiasm, as it's a truly remarkable achievement."
Bookworms packed into the aisles at Unity Books in downtown Wellington heeded his advice, greeting the announcement with cheers and whooping as staff handed out champagne.
"We had one customer who said that this was more important for New Zealand than winning the Rugby World Cup," Unity's Todd Atticus told AFP.
"For our customers, the high-end literary types, that goes without saying." Atticus said all signed and hardback copies of the novel had sold "and we're rapidly munching through our stock of trade paperbacks". Booksellers New Zealand chief executive Lincoln Gould said orders for Catton's book rose hours after her win.
"It's a tremendous success for New Zealand publishing and will help book sales in a market that's been somewhat depressed," he told AFP. Catton topped a six-person shortlist that also included English writer Jim Crace, Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri, Canadian-American novelist Ruth Ozeki and Ireland's Colm Toibin.