A Novel by Eleanor Catton
2013 / 848 pages
The Luminaries was a looooooooong book– a whopping 848 pages, at least 20 main characters and a complex structure featuring the phases of the moon, the alignment of the planets and the signs of the zodiac. It took me a while to read this one. There was detail up the wazoo– every ship in New Zealand was mentioned by name, every building or tent was described in full, every dirty fingernail was picked, every speck of gold dust was included as a main character– but essentially this was a pure mystery novel with a little bit of “magical realism” thrown in.
From Goodreads: It is 1866, and 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 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: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
I ended up reading this book in spurts. The first time I picked it up I only got through part I– learning all of the backgrounds of the characters and the town and getting used to the old timey dialogue and stuffy Victorian opinions (don’t call her a whore! Say she worked in the world’s oldest profession!). Next, I was in a mad rush to get it done before Book Club night– getting about 500 pages read in 4 days but still coming up about 100 short before the big night. Everyone was kind enough to not give away the ending but as I read the last bit yesterday, I thought that it was a tad anticlimactic. Maybe it was because there was an almost 2 week gap between my marathon reading and the ending but I still have questions now that it is all over. What was the point of Walter Moody? He seemed to just fade into the background by the end. What happened to Carver in the back of the cart? Did I miss the explanation? And seriously, was there really a point for 200 pages more following the court case? There was a bit that was interesting/relevant but the rest seemed just like more pages to be added to make the structure fit (each part is half the length of the last– like the phases of the moon– see the cover).
I liked this book– but just liked it. The fancy structure and zodiac tie-ins were really lost on me. I was more interested in the story and solving the mystery– 400 pages would have been enough. The MAIN main characters were interesting enough not to have needed all of the LESS MAIN main characters. I would have given it a 3 star rating but bumped it up to 3.5 because I can appreciate the time and effort Catton went through to construct the novel the way she did.
Funny: I like to highlight interesting passages in my iBooks and it seems out of the 800+ pages in The Luminaries this was the only one that I marked! Hmmmmmmmm….
It was a strange thing to behold a whore in mourning– rather like seeing a dandified cleric, or a child with a moustache; it gave one a sense of confusion.
This review was simultaneously posted on Literary Hoarders.