I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
There is certainly a lot to like about Eleanor's novel. Its structure is fascinatingly clever and reminds me of the way Nabokov divided ADA, or Ardor. In the Luminaries -- Part 1: 360 pgs, Part 2: 160 pgs, Part 3: 104 pgs, Part 4: 96 pgs, Part 5: 40 pages, Part 6: 26 pages, Part 7: 13 pages, Part 8: 10 pgs, Part 9: 6 pgs, Part 10: 6 pgs, Part 11: 4 pages, Part 12: 4 pages. Or looked at slightly differently:
Compare this to Nabokov's ADA -- Part 1: 326 pgs, Part 2: 120, Part 3: 86, Part 4: 32, Part 5: 25
Or looked at slightly differently:
Catton is following in the brave tradition of Nabokov, Pynchon, et al in constructing an elaboratly structured novel. The plot is interesting, but at times ends up being a little redundant. Do we really need to look at the same event from twelve different angles? OK, I'm not sure if that actually ever happens, but at points in the novel it sure felt like it did.
My problem with Catton is she just don't hold up against the writers I want to compare her to (Pynchon, Dickens, Carey, Nabokov) Carey and Nabokov demolish her prose. Her language while precise didn't twinkle or thrill me. Her plot while interesting didn't pull OR push me. Her characters while interesting didn't move or provoke me. And her setting, while exotic didn't capture or entice me. I want to give her some MFA extra-credit for her ambition, but great literature can't be solely rewarded for its ambition and potential. The Luminaries lacked the heart, soul and transcendence that a book about the stars and lovers almost demands. She belongs on the shelf next to Eggers, just not next to Nabokov.
The book is too self-consciously into its own structure to the detriment of the narrative. In short, it was written for graduate seminars rather than for readers.
Yes. The book inspired me, no longer, to trust the Booker prize as an arbiter of literary merit. For the first time, the prize seems unjustified.
This is the kind of book that people will lie about having read for decades.
Not if I have to put up with the endless litany of unremarkable and unlikable characters
Give me a character or two that I could like.
Give it to me as a 10 chapter installment series. Make it lighter, or give at least one of the characters more heart than flaws
I know, the breadth and depth of this work is supposed to inspire me to find it amazing and brilliant. I found myself wishing that I could like any one of the myriad characters (I never did). I kept wishing that not everything was cast in a sense of doom and foreboding.
I made myself listen past the two hour mark, and at the ten hour mark, I still wanted to return it, so I have.
I really found it to be profoundly monotonous, lacking in any humanity or warmth, and while it might be the perfect punishment for an unruly AP English class, I could not find any enjoyable aspect of this work, and finally gave up torturing myself waiting for any character or feature of the plot to shine.
Clearly, I am deeply in the minority, but I cannot help but feel that "long and winding and obfuscated" have become the hallmarks for "great contemporary works of literature."
Yes, I know, I missed the magic. I never found it to be wonderful. I was not, sorry, even impressed. I felt like I was grinding out a horrible assignment, and found no pleasure in the work.
Yes, I know, clearly I'm an uneducated imbecile. My standards are too low (i.e., I'd rather read Mad Magazine than another two paragraphs of this painful exercise). I'm a horrible person with no taste. Fine. I want to like characters, or at least like the story. Or at least find the artifice (astrology? I have to be familiar with astrology to find this brilliant?) clever and approachable.
In short, despite my love of long and intricate stories, and my desire to be enthralled by depth of character and be enveloped into a world created by the author, I just deplored having to listen to the bulk of this book.
Back to the drawing board.
This is my second listening. The reader does an amazing job with the voices and this complex story unfolds like an origami box.
Both the writing and the narration perfectly evoke the feeling of a mining town flush with gold, mystery and drama. The circuitous route by which the characters and their back stories are introduced and tied together keeps the interest level high. As more and more details are revealed and your first impressions are challenged and turned on end you will find yourself wanting to reach the end just so that you can re-read this tale again and catch any clues that you missed on your first go-round.
This book has found a permanent home on my bookshelf as I know that I will be re-reading it over and over. I highly recommend it to fans of Historical Fiction, Mystery, and Drama as it has plenty of all three.
Listening to The Luminaries is like being dropped in the midst of New Zealand’s Otago Gold Rush, blindfolded and totally without reference, and then being spun round in circles by a stranger and let loose to feel around the landscapes and stand near their inhabitants, prospectors and bankers and Chinese diggers and tattooed Māori streaming around you, the women left to pleasure and care for these teeming throngs of men nearly knocking you over as they rush this way and that, and just as you feel overwhelming lost amidst these endless characters, totally without equilibrium in this many-plotted story centered in a town where everyone wants to make it rich, Eleanor Catton comes and takes you by the shoulder and steadies you for just a moment, and you breathe in the smells of dirty men and sea water as ships wreck upon the beach and scavengers look upon the ships and you sigh and know that despite there being too much information here, maybe just too much life here, for one book to ever express, you must keep reading.
Anyone coming off of a Goldfinch buzz and wondering what their next ambitious, too-long book will be should look no further than The Luminaries. Both books are written with the crisp observations that make them so much more than plot recounted. These are stories of life, magnified. Stories of how life could be if we all drunk in details of each other’s quirks and charms, every insecurity and affect, every ugly part and every beautiful one, and then maximized them into sentence-formed still lives spilling over into paragraphs so illustrative of this human condition we’re stuck in they act like paintings on pages changing ordinary days into phenomenas, ordinary interactions into humorous, tragic, wonderful things worth documenting. This is how these books get to be close to 1,000 pages long–life magnified is a very big thing, indeed.
The Luminaries, as I’ve mentioned, is the story of New Zealand’s Otago Gold Rush, and the story of a plethora of characters drawn together by an unfortunate set of circumstances. Men in all sorts of businesses centered around profiting off of gold or the men who find it feel uneasily bamboozled, they all sense a caper of some sort, and yet trying to pin down who has down wrong when is like trying to sift the gold dust apart from the dirt. The plot is complicated, and meant to be, as that’s the fun and beauty of the thing. Also, this is a book that uses the word “whore” quite a bit. Prepare yourself for that.
Catton includes all sorts of bells and whistles, but she really didn’t need to, as her writing stands on its own. There are astrological signs and charts of each character’s place on the zodiac, and there are chapter lengths that get progressively shorter by half until it seems almost hard to keep up with all the pieces that are being put together. Unfortunately much of this is lost in the audiobook, as it could have included a .pdf with the illustrations from the book for reference. What the audiobook version gained was narrator Mark Meadows deftly juggling the varied accents required amidst the cultural mish-mash of gold rush New Zealand. I appreciate getting lost in layers of meaning as much as the next book nerd, however, and I’ll be picking up a hard copy of the book to read again for further understanding of the whole astrological subtext.
Tell us about yourself!
I went into this book for the historical fiction and came out of it thinking, that of the thousands of books I've read, this was truly written in the most original way.
The authour, by tying the character sections into the state of the moon, writing shorter sections as the moon waned, kept things moving along. At the end, a flashback explains all.
Destined to join that long and distinguished line of celebrated, and unread, novels?
Eleanor Catton is a fine writer, but seemingly steeped in the school of the nineteenth century masters. Her language and skills of prose are evident, but over the heads of the average reader today (I count myself included).
The 'astrology' theme, and the waning/waxing phases of the moon, in which the plot is structured is clearly beyond my ability - and inclination - to comprehend.
(At least so far). The book itself is epic, haunting and beautiful, filled with fascinating characters. The audio narration is surprisingly good considering the range of dialects, accents and ethnicities portrayed. Happily the narrator never loses focus from the suspenseful, convoluted and complex plot. I have read the novel twice now, and the audio is a worthy addition. Fast, fresh and funny. A memorable wallow in the "old west" of New Zealand.
While this is definitely a book that falls into the ponderous genre, it still had just enough pace to keep me interested. It created a world that was full of detail and it seemed very real. Yet it is is not perfectly formed. When the last chapter finished I had to look at the paper version to see if something had gone wrong. While some may call the ending different, it has all the hallmarks of a student rushing a paper where they have run out of time. I was left dissatisfied.
To finish on a positive note, the reader of this book was excellent, getting the many accents spot on.