The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

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 bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

I’m quite sure that the widespread rumour (there wasn’t one, but if there had been) of this blog was that it was finished — that I had given up and retreated back into the world of familiar and comfortable novels — that is not the case. In fact, to my own disappointment, my reading has been practically at nil since approximately April; and writing hasn’t been any better. Case in point, I started writing this post in July, and I’m only finishing it now, the last week of September. In the past, I would have written a long spiel about my intentions to do better, my thousand excuses for my lack of the written word, and general apologies for the lacklustre blogger that I have been. Now — I won’t. I’ve been working very hard to eliminate things in my life that have no right to be chores. The only regret I have about the things I’ve read is how much time I spent choosing to stare at my phone screen rather than absorb the words on the paper. I rarely give up on things, especially when I’m passionate about them, so please know that if there are large gaps between posts on this blog, I haven’t gone anywhere. One day, you’ll check back and there will be a shiny new review up for you to read (and enjoy, or not — your choice).

I’d long thought that perhaps I would pick up a Maori book — something native to the country of New Zealand as my choice. I’m sure I will eventually, because I’ve come to the realization that I haven’t put enough effort into including indigenous voices in this ridiculous challenge. I’m disappointed with myself for that, especially since I am from Canada, a country that has a long and brutal history between the indigenous people and the European settlers (reading back these sentences, perhaps this is a topic for a separate blog post). As you can see by the title, I didn’t pick up a book linked to the Maori people — instead I picked up (or maybe heaved up — it’s rather large) The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, the 832 page beast of a book that was awarded the Manbooker Prize in 2013. This book has been on my dad’s bookshelf for a number of years (after I convinced him to buy it for a dollar at my local library’s book sale), and it intrigued me too much to not take advantage of it being in the house.

I suppose there are some people in this world who cannot stand a novel that doesn’t keep them desperately flipping the pages, either with anticipation or too caught up to notice the world around them. In this hypothetical novel, the plot fuels it along, each page brimming with new twists while the others fall away. A classic set-up, with a linear timeline and a cast of characters easy enough to remember. At most, four main characters — although every novel needs it’s irrelevant friends, teachers and parents. If that sounds like your kind of book,  I would steer you in a wide circle around The Luminaries — as it doesn’t even come close to being any of those things (except perhaps a page-turner, in a certain sense of the word).

This is an impossible to review book, so I guess it’s no surprise how much about The Luminaries I only realized once I had finished it (no spoilers!). First and foremost, how we, the reader, are kept at an arm’s length the entire time — the more we try to peer into the narrative, the further we are shuffled back, until we come to the realization that we are an impartial observer, and no one particularly cares how much we understand. This isn’t a simple ‘whodunit,’ and honestly, I think you’ll reach a point where you realize ‘who’ is relative — there’s always someone who pulled the trigger, but sometimes they’re not the villain. The more you think you know about people the less you actually do — and doesn’t that apply to real life too? But I’ll be honest — I had (and still have) no idea what the whole phases of the moon thing was about. Anyone care to explain?

We’re different versions of ourself depending on who we’re with; we behave differently and make choices entirely indepent of alternate circumstances. Is it unrealistic to try and simplify us down to a character that can be understood in a mere 400 pages? I think that’s one of the questions Eleanor Catton is asking — although she’s taking a sensible 800 pages to do it. As the reader, we only get the briefest glimpse of the town she introduces, and each character, no matter how small, is given the same depth as the one prior. Intensely descriptive writing links them all together, but it’s distanced writing. We know our places, and it is that of the reader.

I read this like a page turner. I ploughed through the first half in three days, but then life happened and it took me three weeks to read the second half. It is a page turner, in it’s own sense. Once you get invested enough, you want to find out how much you don’t know. That’s what struck me so intensely.

I really enjoyed this review — I think it summed up a lot of my own thoughts.

triggers: abuse, drug use, suicide. 

  • from New Zealand.
  • read June – July 2017, book #17.
  • published 2013, 832 pages.
  • bought at the library booksale for $1.

Have you read this? What did you think? 

Advertisements Share this:
Like this:Like Loading... Related