The Luminaries

The Luminaries

eBook - 2013
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r
rab1953
Jan 16, 2021

This book, for me, starts out better than it ends. The first sections are engrossing, detailed and mysterious. I didn’t know what was happening, but it unfolded small piece by small piece, slowly creating a picture of some unexplained events experienced by 12 men in an isolated setting on the west coast of New Zealand. Like a long 19th century novel by Wilkie Colllins, it builds a mystery from the fragments that each participant sees, while a listener tries to puzzle it out and understand how it relates to the mystery in his own life.
In the sections that follow, the characters find more pieces of information, and intriguingly end up in a big courtroom scene in which they conspire to present a false story to the judge. But in more and more brief snippets of the story, the villain dies mysteriously, the conspirators continue to live frustrated lives and the hero and heroine seem drawn together by unknown forces. The last sections are so brief that it felt as if the author got so tired of writing out the first part that she was no longer interested in finishing the novel. Or perhaps she is telling us that her novel is not an entertainment, but it is a highly wrought literary creation and ought to be appreciated as such.
In part, this reflects one theme of the novel, that everyone has their own piece of the story, and it can never come together in a complete and satisfactory way. But here, it seems as if Catton’s objective is to deliberately alienate her readers and tell them that the interesting story she began with isn’t worth her time, or theirs, and they should just deal with it. Or instead, appreciate the artful way she has structured the story, like the phases of the moon or the spiral of a fern. There is a great deal of artistry that I admire in the novel, but the structure feels more like clever trickery than artfulness.
What I do admire particularly, in addition to the intricate plotting, is the detailed picture Catton creates of a small 19th century frontier town. Reading her description of Hokitika gives me a parallel to the goldrush towns of British Columbia, which I’ve grown up with but not seen portrayed so well. Catton has researched the language and lifestyles so thoroughly that I can visualize the settings and how the characters fit into them. Even the details of claims registration, banking and shipping insurance fit plausibly into the narrative in a way that seems accurate and precise. Many writers describing details of contemporary society are not as successful. The characters are also plausible and varied. I assume they fit the astrological structure that Catton imposes on the book, although whether they do or not seems to have no bearing on the story and I was not interested enough in that aspect to try to work it out.
Perhaps because of the frontier setting, the range of characters is limited. The women characters are largely overshadowed by the men, with only two women showing any kind of agency even though the story revolves around them. Two Chinese laborers play small roles but both have the depth of a backstory. The Maori character has the least development of the central characters. He comes and goes at his will and is portrayed with sympathy, but we know nothing of his background and little of his motivation. If Catton is trying to avoid appropriation of an indigenous character, she ends up coming close to stereotyping him as the silent unknowable native. Perhaps this is how her 19th century characters saw him, but her readers see all the other characters through 21st century eyes, and it seems inconsistent to let him remain a shadow.
In spite of my criticism, I enjoyed reading the book. It filled up my Christmas hours pleasureably even if I didn’t fully appreciate the literary construction that it seems to be.

p
posie12
Jan 15, 2021

The ending seems a bit muddied. anyway, that gold sure travelled.

h
hillaryblair
Jan 14, 2021

Definitely a long read, but also incredibly engaging! It was hard to put this book down despite its length. Catton writes in a similar style to other 19th century literature, capturing the language and thoughts of her characters well. It can be a little confusing because there are so many characters and a plot that slowly reveals itself to the reader so be warned. The ending feels a little rushed with chapters going from 30 pages long to just one. Most of the loose ends get tied up, but not everything is a neat little bow. Overall, a great start to my reading list for 2021! I recommend this if you like Wilkie Collins' "Woman in White".

b
brangwinn
Mar 30, 2019

If you plan to read this book, you will nee to be committed to a book in which you almost need a visual to understand all the twists and turns. It moves back and forth, telling the story of a small gold-Ming town in New Zealand, completed with nefarious characters who look out for themselves first. There are honest people as well, but surrounded by skullduggery and deceit it is challenging for them A complicated book with a complicated ending.

l
Lotushead
Apr 08, 2018

This is a great fun story. It seems rather confusing at first but the story reveals itself as the Moon waxes, and astrological soulmates find each other.

b
becker
Aug 25, 2017

I knew after the first few paragraphs that I was going to love this book. This is a big complex story that is incredibly well constructed. The characters are so well designed with each of them containing a unique voice and serving a specific purpose in the book. The ending was so clever right up to the last parargraph which was moving and beautiful. I listened to a portion of this book on audio and the narrator was amazing with the ability to switch back and forth between about half a dozen different accents in a dialogue. For me, it was the perfect book. I was very sad to finish it which says a lot about a 830 page book.

e
EmilyEm
Jul 12, 2016

Walter Moody interrupts a meeting when he enters his hotel’s parlor on a stormy night in 1860s New Zealand’s Gold Rush town of Hokitika.

Very Dickens-like with multiple characters and character motives. No wonder the hype and awards. Reminded of David Mitchell’s and Kate Atkinson’s recent writing. Loved it.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 04, 2016

The Luminaries is a many-faceted and, in ways, complex book, but that doesn't mean the story is not enjoyable. For those willing to make the effort, it can be a wonderful read. Yes, it's saturated with cross-references to astrological charts, experimentation of form, and word play, all with the stylization of Victorian literature, but I wouldn't say the story is in any way bogged down by these elements. If anything, I'd say these elements are what lift this novel above other such tomes of historical mysteries.

p
paul_broomfields1
Jun 02, 2016

This really is an exquisitely written novel. Highly recommended for myriad reasons.

Do you love really long books? This is the one for you. It also happens to be a gorgeously written story full of complex characters set in the fascinating 1860's Gold Rush period in New Zealand. Read this delicious puzzle today. Recommended by Melissa

b
bookwormjeph
Feb 09, 2016

A great read though I did find it lost some momentum in the middle of it's more than 800 pages. A rollicking story set in Hokitika in the height of the gold rush. A complex cast of characters and the inter-relationships between them all is written with humour, pithiness and at times sadness and disappointment. Beautifully written and well deserving of it's award to Eleanor Catton.

d
doneschu
Jan 03, 2016

90% of the book is wonderfully descriptive. It's written as people might have talked in the 1800's: lots of words and phrases not in general use today. The last few chapters are horrible. It's almost as though the author got tired of writing and just jotted down a few thoughts to get it over with. Very disappointing, poorly written ending.

t
trixxstaar
Nov 21, 2015

Lived up to the hype, in my opinion.

f
Foxglen
Oct 23, 2015

This is not a book you can't put down. In fact I couldn't finish it. It's a long drawn out mistery that could have used half the words.

h
heinrij
Sep 22, 2015

This would have been a good story if it were 200 or 300 pages. If you get stuck, start at part 5 and go to the end. It explains everything. Some profanity, not much. Rate it PG

d
DevilStateDan
Jul 12, 2015

I was keen to read this from the start as it seemed to divide so many readers, produced one of the biggest library holds queues I've ever seen & of course, it won the big prize!
It did not disappoint, I really enjoyed the complex layering of characters & interweaving of storyline and all set in my favourite era!
This ticked off #ABookByAFemaleAuthor for my #2015ReadingChallenge

l
LKBC_EPL
Jun 25, 2015

The author seamlessly weaves together the incredible stories of her varied characters with impeccable style to produce a suspenseful,engaging, and wholly originally murder-mystery.

ss1989 Jun 03, 2015

I couldn't finish it. I honestly found it incredibly boring. Maybe because the book I read previously had me flipping through the pages as quick as possible, but god is this an endeavor to get through a chapter and keep interest. If that wan't bad enough a character- who to the authors credit *is* a courtesan- is very quickly and early in referred to as a " whore " and her attempted suicide laughed at. Flipping through some of the pages to see if any passages later on were at least a little interesting I stumbled across many more references to her being called a " whore " and her referring to herself as well. An already painfully boring book with that added, I didn't see the need to finish. Can't wait to return it.

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gendeg
May 27, 2015

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is a Dickens-style epic but also intimately gothic and atmospheric, and an homage to that quirky brand of Victorian sensationalist writing. This may make it seem stilted and stuffy and discursive, but I found the novel surprisingly post-modern and edgy, especially as Catton unrolls the complex tale through different viewpoints using--gasp, how retrograde!--astrological logic to structure every plot twist. It reads at a clip. Even if you have no interest in astrology, you have to admire the sheer technical chops it took to write an 800-page novel in this revelatory, readable fashion.

Catton's central conceit seems to be that events and circumstances are driven not by the will but by the relationships of the characters to each other, almost how stars exert their influence depending on their position in the heavens (to use the astrological parlance). As the narrator says, “there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still.”

For me, this was a most profound and intriguing way to drive a story. Catton's writing is rich and savory like a steak dinner, and I was happily lost in this strange world of gold rush New Zealand. Shamelessly, one of my favorites.

kbo90 Mar 14, 2015

Be warned, this book is long. Complex and at times a bit exhausting, it's ultimately a tale worth reading. Bonus points for this historical fiction's descriptions of life for all in a frontier gold mining town in New Zealand - quite interesting.

k
kancruze
Feb 16, 2015

I'm not sure what the fuss is all about. I found this book plodding and boring. I read half of it and gave up. I didn't like any of the characters. I found I didn't really care what happened to any of them so I closed the book and didn't even bother reading the last chapter to find out.

c
Carroll
Jan 04, 2015

Well written and intriguing. Organized in a fascinating manner. A mystery involving murder, greed, theft, extortion, blackmail, guilt, regret, love... written in a Dickensian style and containing a lot of history involving New Zealand. Unfortunately, there is no philosophical underpinning that made it worth my while. Felt in the end it was not worth reading all 830 pages.

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Persnickety77
Nov 17, 2014

Overall it just fell flat for me. it seemed pointless. it has a complicated, amazing narrative structure that builds and builds, than wanes and flips in on itself. very admirable, but it has no heart at its core. All form, no substance

n
nelee
Sep 10, 2014

If you have started it, I suggest you stick with it. As the cover art suggests, each chapter is shorter than the previous, like the phases of the moon. The second half of the book just rips along, and all the loose ends are cleverly tied together. I really enjoyed the writing, but I love the Victorian era, Upstairs Downstairs kind of thing, which some may not enjoy.

j
johncruse
Sep 07, 2014

Boring, Boring...At least the first 212 pages. Don't know about the remaining 600.


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