The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, Little Brown and Company, 2013, 830 pp
I was dying to read this book from the moment I heard about it. The Booker Prize winner for 2013, a young female author purported to be highly intelligent (I love young intelligent female authors) from New Zealand (I have a thing for fiction from down under.) Finally I got through the holidays and all that end of the year stuff, cleared the decks, and settled down for a nice long winter read.
Well! Reading the beginning of The Luminaries is an eye-of-the-needle proposition. If you can make it through Part One, 360 pages, you will probably make it to the end. Many are called but few are chosen, though I must say that is rather true of most Booker Prize winners.
Before I had gone even 100 pages, I switched from my beautiful hardcover copy (graciously sent to me by the publisher free of charge, I guess because I have a blog) and began reading the digital galley edition on my iPad. Because the hardcover was so heavy it was hard to switch back and forth from the page I was reading to the character chart at the beginning. That chart of characters is essential to following the story.
Yes, the characters. There are 20 main characters, one of whom is dead; all important and intrinsic to this tale of the 1860s Gold Rush in New Zealand. At first I was annoyed by the lengthy description of each person. It felt like too much telling, but it turned out that the author had painted vivid pictures of each in my mind helping me to remember them as I got to know them further through the story.
I tried to make sense of the astrology connection but finally gave it up. I don't know enough about astrology to get what she was doing, though I might have missed a whole level of the novel.
It took me a full week to read The Luminaries. By the end I was reading over 200 pages a day due to the telescoping nature of the book's structure, but the beginning was rough. I'm not sure quite how she captured me. I do like gold rush stories for the sheer lawlessness and desperation involved. This one is also a mystery with possibly a few too many red herrings and ultimately it's a love story though that does not become apparent until the end. She does a good end, tying up all the loose threads and sorting out all the clues. I became extremely fond of the lovers and don't guess I will ever forget them.
I felt a sense of accomplishment in finishing The Luminaries. I didn't love it but I knew Eleanor Catton had had her way with me for which I admire her immensely. Not a book for the faint of heart or the light-minded, but a rollicking, honest, and in-depth look at human nature run amok.
(The Luminaries is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)