The Luminaries

The Luminaries

eBook - 2013
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In 1866, a weary Englishman lands in a gold-mining frontier town on the coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind his family's shame. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to investigate what links three crimes that occurred on a single day, events in which each man finds himself implicated in some way: the town's wealthiest man has vanished. An enormous fortune in pure gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. A prostitute is found unconscious on a deserted road. But nothing is quite as it seems. As the men share their stories, what emerges is an intricate web of alliances and betrayals, secrets and lies in which everything is connected and everyone plays a part, whether they know it or not.
Publisher: New York : McClelland & Stewart, 2013.
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From Library Staff

Set during the heady days of New Zealand's Gold Rush, The Luminaries is a magnificent novel of love, lust, murder, and greed, in which three unsolved crimes link the fates and fortunes of twelve men.

From the critics

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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.

Jan 15, 2021

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

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".

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 06, 2016

Love cannot be reduced to a catalogue of reasons why, and a catalogue of reasons cannot be put together into love.

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