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The Luminaries (2013)

by Eleanor Catton

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,9662272,258 (3.78)1 / 657
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the West Coast goldfields. On the 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 whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous sum of money 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.… (more)
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» See also 657 mentions

English (217)  Dutch (6)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (225)
Showing 1-5 of 217 (next | show all)
Slogged through the first hundred pages, mourning the author of The Rehearsal, cringing at the Melvillian affectations of the prose, then settled into its plotty groove throughout the first half, and today ripped through the last four hundred pages in one sitting. Takes a while to see what Catton's getting at, and not just because she's written a fiendishly complicated mystery with twelve main characters. I don't blame anybody who's turned off by these men, with their overlapping astrological traits and barely distinguished moustaches. I liked a couple of them. Creature of structure that she is, Catton delays revealing until her disintegrating denouement that none of the twelve are ultimately significant. She's actually written what amounts to the 21st century's unwieldiest love letter, as I see it, having been involved with her fiancee Steven Toussaint throughout the process of writing this novel. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good mystery, with atmosphere piped in from Melville and Collins all the way down to Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but the final chapters reveal the whole plot to be a great rickety celestial system for Catton's star-bound lovers to hang brightly within. She doesn't spend much time building up the romance. She seems to believe that the stars she's charted will illuminate it for us, and I'm inclined to agree. ( )
  brendanowicz | May 9, 2021 |
Count me among the apparent few that did not fall in love with this book. I heard it in audio and I suspect that it did play a part in my overall disconnect to this book: too many characters, too many convoluted stories… I do give to Catton that she manages to tie them together at the end – quite an accomplishment really when about 20 characters all have some form of connection to the main plot.

As other readers already mentioned, Catton does manage to create a very strong sense of place and time, but she fails to convince me – the reader – that her story is more than just a convoluted tale. I really wish some editor had come around and cut about 200 pages (8 hours) of the fillers. It probably will make a good movie someday…
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
In 1866, a diverse and international cast of characters converges on Hokitika, a New Zealand gold-mining port-town. The protagonists grapple with a number of mysterious goings-on in the town - the disappearance of a young businessman, the sudden and suspicious death of a drunk in whose home a hidden fortune is discovered, an attempted suicide by a locally well-known prostitute who vigorously denies having tried to take her life. It soon becomes evident that the search for the truth will not be easy...

The Luminaries was the 2013 Booker Prize winner and it is not difficult to see why. A sprawling, 800 page novel, it is kept together by a meticulously crafted structure inspired by astrology (which, incidentally, plays quite a central role in the plot). Characters are analysed with great psychological insight; settings and interiors are described in a poetic prose which could well serve as textbook extracts for creative writing classes. Underlying the novel are suitably profound queries - to what extent are we masters of our fate? What are the elements which govern human behaviour? For lovers of 19th century novels there are then knowing "inside" references to the genres which dominated Romantic narrative fiction - the sensation novel, the revenge/adventure yarn, the crime/mystery story, seafaring tale, the ghost story.

Yet, despite its brilliance, The Luminaries somehow doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. As a crime novel it is simply too long, so much so that the characters helpfully recapitulate the salient elements of the plot every couple of chapters. As a supernatural tale it is unconvincing. It is definitely worth reading but, for me at least, it was no page-turner and not what I would call a "ghost story". ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
How can one criticize a Man Booker Prize winner? The Luminaries is carefully structured. The writing is perfect, but then...oh dear. The story is set during a gold rush in 1860s New Zealand. In 800 plus pages it unwinds a mystery regarding theft, fraud, perjury, mysticism, and a drug addicted prostitute adored by many. This is all told by an omniscient narrator from the point of view of twelve men. The elements of the mystery are convoluted. The POV can change multiple times in the same scene and there are flashbacks. The reader must be exceptionally carefully to keep up with what’s going on. I didn’t really find it worth the effort. It has been made into a mini-series. Catton worked on the screenplay which is very different from the book. I only made it through a half hour of the show. Disappointing. ( )
  varielle | Mar 2, 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.
  rab1953 | Jan 16, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 217 (next | show all)
It is complex in its design, yet accessible in its narrative and prose. Its plot is engrossing in own right, but an awareness of the structure working behind it deepens one’s pleasure and absorption. As a satisfying murder mystery, it wears its colours proudly, yet it is not afraid to subvert and critique the traditions and conventions of its genre. Best of all, while maintaining a wry self-awareness about its borrowings and constructions, it is never a cynical novel. At times, it can be unapologetically romantic, in both its narrative content and its attitude towards the literary tradition it emulates. It is a novel that can be appreciated on many different levels, but which builds into a consistent and harmonious whole.
Is Ms. Catton’s immense period piece, set in New Zealand, for readers who want to think about what they should be thinking? The book’s astrology-based structure does not exactly clarify anything. Its Piscean quality, she writes in an opening note, “affirms our faith in the vast and knowing influence of the infinite sky.”
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Oct 23, 2013)
It’s easy to toss around words like “potential” and “promising” when a young author forges the kind of impression made by Eleanor Catton with her 2009 debut, The Rehearsal, a formally tricky but assured novel that hinged on teacher-student sexual relations. It won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the Betty Trask Award, and was a finalist for a handful of other plaudits, including the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize for the best work by a writer under the age of 30. Making good on those expectations is another matter. With her ambitious second novel, Catton has accomplished that – and a great deal more.
The Luminaries is a novel that can be enjoyed for its engrossing entirety, as well as for the literary gems bestowed on virtually every page.
added by monnibo | editQuill & Quire, Vit Wagner (Oct 1, 2013)
The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner.

But it is also a massive shaggy dog story; a great empty bag; an enormous, wicked, gleeful cheat. For nothing in this enormous book, with its exotic and varied cast of characters whose lives all affect each other and whose fates are intricately entwined, amounts to anything like the moral and emotional weight one would expect of it. That's the point, in the end, I think, of The Luminaries. It's not about story at all. It's about what happens to us when we read novels – what we think we want from them – and from novels of this size, in particular. Is it worthwhile to spend so much time with a story that in the end isn't invested in its characters? Or is thinking about why we should care about them in the first place the really interesting thing? Making us consider so carefully whether we want a story with emotion and heart or an intellectual idea about the novel in the disguise of historical fiction … There lies the real triumph of Catton's remarkable book.
added by Polaris- | editThe Guardian, Kirsty Gunn (Sep 11, 2013)
The narrative structure intrigues, moving Rashomon-like between viewpoints and the bounds of each character’s separate sphere of knowledge, without ever losing the reader, various characters playing detective then stepping aside. The novel has many attributes – excellent dialogue, humour, great observation, as when two acquaintances at a party share the same expression:......Catton matches her telling to her 19th-century setting, indulging us with straightforward character appraisals, moral estimations of each character along with old-fashioned rundowns of their physical attributes, a gripping plot that is cleverly unravelled to its satisfying conclusion, a narrative that from the first page asserts that it is firmly in control of where it is taking us. Like the 19th-century novels it emulates, The Luminaries plays on Fortune’s double meaning – men chasing riches, and the grand intertwining of destinies.

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for Pop, who sees the stars
and Jude, who hears their music
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The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met.
'There's no charity in a gold town. If it looks like charity, look again.'
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It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the West Coast goldfields. On the 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 whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous sum of money 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.

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It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the West Coast goldfields. On the 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 whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous sum of money 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. From the author of the award-winning global phenomenon The Rehearsal comes a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems.
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