Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Club: The Luminaries

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.

So reads the blurb on the back of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries. The story was incredible, definitely deserving of the Man Booker Prize it won. It was also unbelievably long and complex. This lead to several things:

1) I was in perpetual awe that this behemoth was written by the youngest author to be awarded the Man Booker, 28 year-old Eleanor Catton (though it did take her 5 years to write...so maybe that's even more awe-inducing?!). It's size made it unwieldly to read in bed and almost embarrassing to read in public, thanks to it's similarity in size to trashy romance novels (however, The Luminaries is much bigger at 832 pages). I took the paperback version with me on a few trips and, without fail, every person who saw me reading did a double-take.
2) Everybody in my book club is known for being able to plow through books, but not this one. We all needed to push back our discussion date! The author really did an amazing job of telling the story in a kind of 19th century language. Sometimes the prose was so dense I felt like I was bushwhacking through a jungle, other times it was simply the length that was bogging me down. Either way, this book is not beach reading material.

3) The complexity of this book's structure blew me away again and again and again. Wow. The shape of a piece of writing is something that fascinates me, and this novel was a true piece of art with regards to structure. The story is so intricate that it can be confusing until you hit a point where certain things fall into place enough to motivate you to keep reading to see how the next pieces of the puzzle will come together. 

Catton used star charts from the late 1860's to create her framework, saying in an interview in The Lumiere Reader, "I chose each star chart deliberately, with a view to how I could use it, and I relaxed my hold wherever I needed to. I painted myself into a corner a great many times, and was often stuck for weeks, frustrated, staring at the pattern...". She was dedicated to her framework, and it shows.
That said, the complexity of it all made for a fun book club discussion. It also presented ample ideas for setting the table that night: smuggled gold dust, a fortune from the Aurora mine,  the green of the pounamu, and the setting of a sham seance.

If you like reading through puzzles, then this might be a book for you. The length of the book definitely makes it more of a commitment, but then again, commitment often has its rewards.

Have you read The Luminaries, or is it on your to-read list? What are you reading now?


Anonymous said...

I love all of Diana Gabaldon's books. They're all big, and very well written. Her fans' motto is "I like big books and I cannot lie!" The only thing I don't like is having to wait so long between them!

Juliette said...

@Anon: I've never heard of Diana Gabaldon...I probably just live under a rock, as I see that there are movies from her books... ;-) But yes, big books are kinda nuts!

Natalie said...

Ooo this is beautiful! The book sounds like a fascinating winter read so I shall add it to my library list and mark it for winter. Then I'll have to come back to look at your decor for ideas! So inspiring.

Georgianna said...

Hi Juliette!

I hope this finds you well. Great review, by the way. I will definitely look for this title.

I do apologize for not responding earlier but I'm really pleased to hear you have a DSLR camera now and are getting the photography bug (obsession?).

Wishing you a great weekend ahead.


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