The Luminaries: A Novel

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Little, Brown, Oct 15, 2013 - Fiction - 848 pages
3 Reviews
From the author of The Rehearsal and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems....

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.

Eleanor Catton was only 22 when she wrote The Rehearsal, which Adam Ross in the New York Times Book Review praised as "a wildly brilliant and precocious first novel" and Joshua Ferris called "a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel." The Luminaries amply confirms that early promise, and secures Catton's reputation as one of the most dazzling and inventive young writers at work today.

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At over 800 pages, The Luminaries was just the ticket for a holiday read, and having heard so much about it, I didn't mind spending NZ$35 for my own copy when I would usually just wait until all the fuss had died down and borrow it from the library.
At the beginning I found the character descriptions rather lengthy, but I was soon hooked into the story. As I read alot of C19th New Zealand newspaper articles, I found the style of language appropriate and not too difficult to follow, (though at times I would have loved a dictionary to find out the meaning of some archaic words). Even though I didn't 'get' all the references to the star signs, it added some appropriate mystique to the story.
Sometimes it was a bit tricky to follow who was 'talking', as the story and conversation would jump from past to present without warning, but a quick reread and a reminder of the context put it back into order.
So basically I was enjoying the book, and getting more excited as I approached the end, only to find that the tempo suddenly changed and the narrative became severally constricted, as if the writer ran out of time/money/patience and it became a hasty race to the end. The chapters were constricted into one or two pages, with all the real knitty gritty jammed into one sentence paragraphs at the start of each chapter. By the time the last page came around, after an 832 page reading marathon, I felt , well, 'ho hum' best described the ending.
I think it is great that a young NZ author has won such a prestigious award, and for an historical novel, not always a popular genre, but one of my favourites. She has done a brilliant job of painting a picture of mid C19th West Coast life, particularly of interest to me as that is where one of my ancestors settled at the same time. But as a mystery novel, for me, in the final chapters it fell short of expectations.

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About the author (2013)

Born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, Eleanor Catton, 27, completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2007 and won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for her first novel, The Rehearsal, which was also long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop as the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship. She lives in New Zealand.

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