Eleanor Catton's problem with New Zealand

DISHING OUT: Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton is not happy being seen as an ambassador for New Zealand.
ROBERT CATTO

DISHING OUT: Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton is not happy being seen as an ambassador for New Zealand.

Man Booker Prize author Eleanor Catton says she is uncomfortable being seen as an ambassador for New Zealand which she says is dominated by neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, shallow and money hungry politicians who do not care about culture.

The Luminaries author made her comments at the Jaipur Literary Festival which were reported across India, including at length on Indian news website Live Mint.

She said New Zealand did not have a lot of confidence in the brains of its citizens and there was a lot of embarrassment over writers.

Catton said she grew up with the "strange belief" that New Zealand writers were less great than writers from Britain and America.

"Because we were some colonial backwater, we weren't discovered, which I'm hoping will change," she said.

The last thing that was needed was a whole country of embarrassed writers slinking around.

"The good side of New Zealand is that there isn't all that kind of shallow literary fame where everyone's backstabbing each other."

The problem was New Zealanders were reluctant to express firm beliefs in anything.

Although The Luminaries won the Man Booker prize, it failed to win the New Zealand Post Book Award main prize.

"There was this kind of thing that now you've won this prize from overseas, we're not going to celebrate it here, we're going to give the award to somebody else," Catton said.

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"If you get success overseas, then very often the local population can suddenly be very hard on you."

She was uncomfortable with the way the Man Booker was seen as a New Zealand award.

"It betrays an attitude towards individual achievement which is very uncomfortable. It has to belong to everybody or the country really doesn't want to know about it."

She did not like being an ambassador when her country was not doing as much as it could for the intellectual world.

"At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, (is dominated by) these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture," Catton is quoted saying.

"They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want. I feel very angry with my government."

Responding to Catton's comments, Prime Minister John Key said he was disappointed she felt that way, but not necessarily surprised. 

"She has been aligned with the Green Party, and that probably summarises the Green Party view of this Government. 

"I don't think that reflects what most New Zealanders perceive of the Government. If it was, they probably wouldn't have voted for us in such large numbers. 

"I'm disappointed she doesn't have respect for the work that we do, because I have tremendous respect for what she does as a writer, and that's why I think she's been so widely acclaimed."

Key said he was not concerned with the level of international coverage Catton's comments received. 

"In the end, it's a free world and people will judge New Zealand on its merits. 

"I'm certainly very happy with the reports and the overall progress the Government is making on behalf of all New Zealanders. We had an election and they judged that themselves." 

 - Stuff.co.nz

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