Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

 The publishing blurb says: It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: 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: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bus,
The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her midtwenties, and will confirm for critics and readers that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, this is a difficult book to get one's brain wrapped around.  It is dense, lengthy, and gimmicky,  often leaving the reader wondering when the story would ever pick up.  There are at least 15 major characters deeply involved in a mystery.  The mystery itself is revealed only as the story goes along.  The reader has to decide was there a murder?  If so, where is the body, and who committed the crime?  If not, then is there simply a missing person?  Why is he missing? where did he go?

As each player in the mystery tells and re-tells the story from his or her various perspectives, it becomes somewhat repetitive and is only tolerable because there is enough new/extra material revealed to keep tantalizing the reader to continue with the story. However, it wasn't until I got to page 600+ that I felt invested enough in the story to want to complete reading the book. At 848 pages, it requires a serious commitment of time, and is not easily read in short clips.  Often I found myself having to backtrack to refresh pieces of the story I hadn't yet committed to memory.

It is certainly a complex book, with layers of meaning, and a unique structure.  Catton frames the story on an astrological chart that is meaningful only to those who are conversant with the science.  To others, the use of this device is distracting and actually detracts from the story by making the reader feel the need to either ignore the astrological allusions and ponder what he might be missing or constantly take the time to go look up the references and lose track of the story itself.  I also felt the characters were not as strong as I would have liked.  Several were two-dimensional, and needed more development.  It would have really helped to know more about the motivations of those involved.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and felt it was worth the effort, but I know that I will have to read it again to see everything I know I missed.  This would actually be a book I would expect to be discussed, dissected and scrutinized at length in a graduate level English literature course.  Not for the faint hearted, but definitely worth the trouble for anyone who enjoys a good mystery or who is interested in the setting or time period. I also listened to portions of the book read by Mark Meadows.  The audio was published by Audible LTD.  I bought the audio copy for my own library.

Title: The Luminaries
Author: Eleanor Catton
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition, 848 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Astrology, , New Zealand gold rush
Setting: Hokitika New Zealand
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's on the long list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to read this, but probably do not have the patience for it sadly....Hope u had a nice Christmas Tina and Happy new Year.


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