The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Sometimes I read books and have no desire to write about them, not because I didn’t enjoy them but because I just want to get on and read the next book. And this summer has been one of those times, so that now I’m finding difficult to remember all the details of the books I’ve read because I didn’t write about them soon after I finished reading. It’s been a strange time during this pandemic and it’s not been easy to concentrate. But I do want to keep a record of my reading and the only way now to catch up is to write some brief notes about each book, beginning with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, the winner of the 2013 Booker Prize,

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I downloaded The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 3 years ago. I read it in July. It is a long and detailed book, written with such intricate plotting and numerous characters that it bewildered me at times. It’s historical fiction set in New Zealand in the 1860s, during its gold rush and it has everything – gold fever, murder, mystery and a ghost story too.

Blurb from Goodreads:

It is 1866, and young 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 unexplained events: 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 ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner. 

I found the structure a bit of a stumbling block at first as the chapters halve in length from the very long opening chapter to the very short final chapter – so that from feeling overwhelmed by the length and detail of the opening chapters, by the time that I neared the ending I felt distinctly dissatisfied with the brevity of the concluding chapters – the early chapters are too long and the final ones are too short. And the significance of the astronomical headings completely bypassed me.

But if this sounds as though I didn’t enjoy this novel, that is wrong, because I did for the major part of the book. I loved the pictures it builds up of the setting in New Zealand, the frontier town and its residents from the prospectors to the prostitutes, and the obsessive nature of gold mining. And I did become fully absorbed in the story during the week it took me to read. it

These are the other books I read in July and August and have not yet reviewed:

  • Thin Air by Michelle Paver
  • The Birdwatcher by William Shaw
  • Still Life by Val McDermid
  • Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James

23 thoughts on “The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

  1. I know what you mean about changing reading and reviewing habits because of the pandemic, Margaret. Everything’s different now, isn’t it? I sometimes find it very hard to focus. Still, I’m glad that you enjoyed the book for the most part. If an author can keep you absorbed in such a long book, even if there are ‘bumps along the way,’ that’s a sign of skill.

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  2. I went through a very enthusiastic Michelle Paver phase (and it was inconvenient because I had to order everything from the UK) and then she wrote children’s books that didn’t appeal to me. I saw she had a new book and I will be interested to hear what you thought of it.

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  3. I saw this book at the library the other day when I was just scanning the shelves. We’re only supposed to stay inside 30 minutes or less and I sometimes get distracted by all the lovely books. Anyway, glad to hear about it. My desires about what to read or whether to write about it afterwards are a bit wonky – I go back and forth. I’m trying to say a little something about books that are ‘new to me’ reads and not worrying about the rereading that I’m doing. I say that 2020 is the year that we as readers can do whatever we want in this area – it’s all good, right? Take care, Margaret!

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    1. Yes, Kay it is all good! Glad to hear you can visit the library again. We have limited time browsing in the library here too – but we only get 15 minutes and I haven’t ventured there yet. And as we’re under local restrictions I’m staying at home as much as possible.

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  4. Really hard at the moment to review everything at length so I’ve stopped trying. The Birdwatcher was very good I thought but I haven’t read book 2, mainly because it features the policewoman I didn’t like very much in the first book.

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    1. My reviews are often shortish – I think they’re going to get shorter! I have the next book, but like you I didn’t very much like the policewoman in the first book and haven’t rushed to read it.

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  5. I downloaded this when it was first published but have never got round to reading it. I’m going to be very busy over the next few weeks, so I can’t see myself getting round to it any time soon but thanks for reminding me.

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  6. I think Catton was only 25 when she wrote this book, which makes this an even bigger feat. I’m really interested in watching the TV adaptation that has come out (is on Netflix too); try it out if you get time. 🙂

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    1. I watched the first episode of the TV adaptation – and then started to read the book. They follow a different structure, which confused me, so I decided just to stick with reading the book.

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  7. I tried hard with this book, but gave up in the end. I am not sure I could tell you why, but it was just not working for me and I really wanted it too. The same was for the TV adaptation as well. Sometimes p, books and stories are just not meant for every reader.

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