New Zealand author Eleanor Catton has become the youngest-ever winner in the 45-year history of the Man Booker prize.
The 28-year-old's novel The Luminaries came out on top of rivals including Ireland's Colm Tóibín, whose book The Testament of Mary was short-listed.
Chair of judges Robert Macfarlane described Ms Catton's second novel, set in the New Zealand gold rush of 1866, as a wonder of structure and story-telling.
"The Luminaries is a magnificent novel: awesome in its structural complexity, addictive in its story-telling and magical in its conjuring of a world of greed and gold," he said.
Her 848-page story tells the tale of Walter Moody, who arrives in the goldfields to seek his fortune and immediately stumbles across a tense gathering of local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes.
A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk.
Moody is soon drawn into the mystery.
Ms Catton thanked her publishers for their patience with such a long novel and allowing her the freedom to explore her theme without pressure to make an obviously commercial novel.
"I was free throughout to concern myself with questions not of value but of worth," she said as she accepted the award.
As well as Tóibín, the other short-listed authors for the prize were Canadian Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being, Indian/American Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland, Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names and Britain's Jim Crace for Harvest.
The win by a Commonwealth author and the second from New Zealand in the Man Booker's history is likely to set literary tongues wagging again over the decision by the prestigious prize's organisers last month to change the rules for eligibility from 2014.
The Man Booker said in September that it will permit authors from all over the world to compete for a prize that had been previously exclusive to writers from the UK, Ireland and the British Commonwealth.
On top of a £50,000 prize, Ms Catton will enjoy instant global recognition usually heralding a surge in book sales.
Her win follows 2012 winner Hilary Mantel, who won in 2009 for Wolf Hall and in 2012 for Bring up the Bodies.
Ms Mantel's double win secured her top spot in the official UK top 50 chart and book sales of over 1.5 million.