Friday, December 20, 2013

'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton

20 December 2013

Eleanor Catton broke two records this year, becoming the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker Prize with the longest winning novel, 'The Luminaries'. An 832-page novel is a daunting prospect for the reader but I was intrigued by the reviews and decided to tackle it as an unabridged audio book (lasting more than 29 hours!), narrated by Mark Meadows. 'The Luminaries is a complicated crime mystery set in the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s. The story opens with Walter Moody, newly arrived in the small town of Hokitika, walking into the lounge of the Crown Hotel to discover an odd assortment of twelve men gathered to discuss a series of violent and puzzling recent events. The truth about what has happened is gradually revealed through the eyes of these twelve witnesses before the remaining gaps in the story are filled in from the point of view of its main protagonists. 'The Luminaries' is written in the style of a Victorian thriller that could have come from the pen of Wilkie Collins (such as 'The Moonstone', reviewed here in June 2009, or 'The Woman in White', reviewed here in October 2012). On the face of it the story is simple tale of love, deceit, greed and treachery, made complicated by its length, the large number of characters, the unreliability of some of its narrators and the non-linear way in which we encounter the main events. Beneath this narrative Eleanor Catton sets herself a remarkable challenge, aligning her characters with astrological signs and planets and relating their interactions with each other to the relevant star charts. The lengths of her chapters get shorter as the book progresses, emulating the waning of the moon as the two principal characters representing the sun and moon (The Luminaries) are drawn apart and then together. The thriller plot is intriguing enough to hold your attention without attempting to understand the astrological underpinning and Catton creates a massive cast of distinctive characters whose names seem to take on a poetic quality. There are quite a few loose ends that do not appear to be tied up (Who did kill Francis Carver? And what role did Adrian Moody play in the events?). But I enjoyed my 29 hours in Hokitika, Kanieri and the Arahura.



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