‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton – Book Review

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.

My Review

The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 so obviously I had to someday read it. I love reading award winning books and/or critically acclaimed books because they make me feel superior I like to know what those with supposedly excellent taste and years of experience in critiquing books think is top quality.

However The Luminaries is 832 pages of story in a hardback weighing 1.088kg (no I didn’t take out my kitchen weighing scales and weigh it because that would be weird……………….. awkward silence)
But as I was saying it’s big!! It’s heavy!! I’m not a fan of weighty books (I have weak wrists) but the gods of Booker were calling me soooo I took the plunge and borrowed it from the library.

So what is The Luminaries about???

After 832 pages you think I’d have an answer for you right?????? Yeah………….grumbles Okay, okay I am being facetious. It was about solving a series of mysterious occurrences and crimes in 1800s New Zealand when mining the goldfields was the way to make your fortune. So you could say that The Luminaries at its heart was a love story between man and gold! Sing it random dance song whose artist I don’t recall!!!!! It’s all about the money!!!

But the reason I was facetious about the plot of this book is because of how long the story took to get going. Oh my god 360 pages of set-up…sooooooooo exhausting!!! (And even after that the story still didn’t feel like it was progressing that much.) Needless to say it got tedious!!

So I guess you could say, ‘hey Éimhear! It seems it was a slow burner, I thought you always said you LIKED slow burners???’

And you know what? You would absolutely positively 100% be right!! I LOVE a good slow burner. Oh when the plot is filled with atmosphere, tension, gorgeous descriptions, in depth characterisations….
Gimme Gimme GIMME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THIS however………
Oh. My. God.
D.U.L.L.

So here’s the thing Eleanor Catton IS a great writer. Absolutely! Positively!! Yes!!! What she is not, is a good editor!!!! If she can describe one tiny element of person or situation in one paragraph then it is MUCH too brief for her. She needs to write at least two pages about the one thing! And more often than not, it’s not even relevant to the main storyline.

And as I said it is lovely to have everything so detailed and described… but to a point!!! If you get too much of one thing it makes you feel queasy. Or it gets boring, dull, repetitive!!! I just wanted to tear my eye balls out from the tediousness of her writing style at times.

IT WAS JUST TOO MUCH!!!!

I guess I can see how the critics fawned over this writing and her wonderful grasp on the English language but it felt like showing off!!! ‘Hey look, I just thought of another way to say this super smart thing so I’m going to put this in there too….’

*face palm*

Sometimes less IS more… know what I’m saying???????

And then we get to the omniscient narrator, narrators, whatever……. He, she, we, it… I do not care!!!! We get it dear all-knowing and powerful narrator!!! You are smart. You are wise. You are always in control directing us poor meek clueless readers….

SPARE ME!!!!!!!!!

There is nothing I hate more than a patronising narrator. And good gosh this was a patronising narrator. Oh the arguments I had with this creature… be glad dear friends that you weren’t present to hear the air turning very blue as I unleashed yet another diatribe of expletives on this omniscient douchebag!

So let’s talk about the actual book characters. 832 pages they must have been beautifully detailed, exquisite backstories, multi layered, multi-faceted, multi-everything!!!

You’d think right??? What we got were pastiches at best. Yes characters had some backstory but they all felt uninspired to me. Predictable. Lacking emotion. Not one character did I feel anything for… not hate, not love, not even like… just a whole lot of apathy.

But you kept reading for 832 pages Emer and you weren’t tempted to DNF?? Explain that one!!

Hi! My name is Emer and I love to argue with books. In fact I often talk back at them… it’s weird I know!! I have also been known to fire books across rooms (carefully avoiding both small animals and breakables, because animal abuse is wrong and I have to pay for any damage) but then I pick them back up again because love/hate relationships are my jam!
See I get this perverse pleasure out of disagreeing with books, especially books with omniscient narrators!!! And even though the writing was oh-so-tedious, in places it was brilliant AND the plot was rather good!!!!!

I know, I JUST PRAISED THE BOOK *shocked faces all around*

Let’s talk about the plot without spoilers please!!

Okay… ahhh this is hard!!! Well as you can imagine at 832 pages this was a plot that kept building and building, and building some more!! The author was very smart with her plot; I will definitely give her that. The whole book was like a puzzle that you had to piece together to figure out the final picture and it was a WHOLE lot of fun!!! Ahhh this is how you do plot twists and turns. I loved how the story built up to a certain day and an event… and then the story moved back in time piecing together all the little snippets of information until the final picture was revealed. Nicely done…

UNTIL
The last few pages……………………………
*sigh*

Oh we were doing so well dear Luminaries but just go away with your ridiculous ending!!!
After 832 pages it needed a stronger finish. It’s not that the story leaves you hanging nastily or anything, although as you might know I do like open-ended narratives…
It’s just that it was weak; too quiet. It needed to finish with a bit more fanfare than say a dirge! sad face

Okay what about all the cool astrological stuff in the book??? I heard that the chapter layout does this really awesome winding down thing???

Ah the astrological crap stuff… It was more of a quirky thing than anything; something to make the book stand out from the masses. Basically different characters were represented by different stellar and planetary objects, and at the beginning of each chapter you could figure out certain things about the events and characters in that chapter… It wasn’t crucial to the storyline; in fact I would go so far as to say wasn’t necessary but it was a bit of fun! And I know nothing about astrology and I was able to figure (most) of it out so it shouldn’t put anyone off reading the book.

As for the chapter thing? Well the book is divided into 12 parts and each part is subdivided into chapters. Part one has 12 chapters, part 2 has 11, part 3 has 10 etc until part 12 ends with just the one chapter.
Bit of a gimmick!!
If the chapter lengths had been roughly equivalent then I would have been more convinced that this was integral to the story but the final 8 parts took place over 120 pages or so??? And the first four parts took roughly 710 pages!! Don’t get me wrong, I was VERY grateful that those last 8 parts picked up the pace because the story needed it desperately; it’s just that sometimes I felt chapters were only called chapters for the sake of this theme and that on many occasions they were just awkwardly divided up.

So the big question is overall did you like The Luminaries and would you recommend it?

It’s a case of yes and no for liking the book. I am going to award it three stars because it took A LOT of effort to write and absolute respect for that, the plot was intricately woven and I LOVED that… but the narrator needed to be punched, the book needed some serious editing and the characters needed to be more rounded… so I think three is fair enough!!

And as for recommending it…HELL YEAH!!! It’s so fun to be all superior and smug at the dinner table saying that you frequently read Booker Prize winners. Way to make your other friends who are only into reading gossip mags feel inadequate!!! I absolutely would recommend it because even though this book frequently drove me to the point of insanity it was kinda fun getting that annoyed!! And also I’d really like to discuss this book with my bookish friends so READ IT!!!!!

three stars

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