Longlisted – Baileys Women’s Prize 2014
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2013
Canadian Governor General's Literary Award, 2013.
It is 1866 and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore 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.
The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th-century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-20s, and will confirm for critics and listeners that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.
Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2007 and won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for The Rehearsal. She was the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to study for a year at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop in the US and went on to hold a position as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing there, teaching Creative Writing and Popular Culture. Eleanor won a 2010 New Generation Award. She now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
©2013 Eleanor Catton (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"The Luminaries is an impressive novel, captivating, intense and full of surprises.” (Times Literary Supplement)
“The Luminaries is a breathtakingly ambitious 800-page mystery with a plot as complex and a cast as motley as any 19th-century doorstopper. That Catton's absorbing, hugely elaborate novel is at its heart so simple is a great part of its charm. Catton's playful and increasingly virtuosic denouement arrives at a conclusion that is as beautiful as it is triumphant.” (Daily Mail)
“It is awesomely - even bewilderingly - intricate. There's an immaculate finish to Catton's prose, which is no mean feat in a novel that lives or dies by its handling of period dialogue. It's more than 800 pages long but the reward for your stamina is a double-dealing world of skullduggery traced in rare complexity. Those Booker judges will have wrists of steel if it makes the shortlist, as it fully deserves.” (Evening Standard),br />“Eleanor Catton is nothing if not ambitious. Her latest novel, longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize, is an 828-page blockbuster. With astonishing intricacy and patient finesse, Catton brings to life the anomalous nature of 19th-century New Zealand.” (Sunday Times)
“Expansive and quite superb. Catton writes with real sophistication and intelligence... with intricate plotting and carefully wrought scenes.” (Scotsman)
“Every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner.” (Guardian)
“For the scale of her ambition and the beauty of its execution, somebody should give that girl a medal.” (Lucy Daniel, Daily Telegraph)
“a truly exciting new writer” (Kate Atkinson)
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
I usually give in to the award winners, more out of a skeptical curiosity than the belief in some arbitrary group's promise that this will be *the best book I've read since...* I enjoy the mental argument that *they* got it wrong, as much as the agreement that *they* got it right, either way counting on being stirred enough by the read to have the passion for a discussion. In the case of the Luminaries, I get neither satisfaction. The only other short-listed Man Booker I've read this year is Harvest by Jim Crace -- it lost, and was about equally entertaining (as was Transatlantic, from the longlist). The word, I swore I'd never use in a review comes to mind -- meh (less a word than onomatopoeia) such a cop out, but the listen left me exhausted for the reasons I'll explain.
This is not a complaint, or to say I did not like the book. It is captivating and elaborately constructed with a great sense of place and time. The period details are transportive, in the beginning feeling much like a good Dickens pastiche. The characters, as many as there are months of the year, are each an astrological sign, or house, and the characteristics assigned to those distinctions, which she uses to prefix each chapter, as well as explain whom is in whose house, etc. Catton also enjoys some word-play in this complex production of writing and architecture -- writing each chapter with exactly half the words as the preceding chapter. All these pieces of construction are exceptionally ambitious and creative, but can be confusing and mentally labor intensive. (There is no explanation given in the audible version; I came to these realizations after banging my head against the wall for a couple of days, and relentlessly texting Darwin on the matter.)
Catton has definitely written an interesting novel, and written, and written, and belabored the plot until I just lost interest and wanted to move forward to a finish instead of reviewing, again, the events as told by each of the 12 characters involved. I would go into synopsis of the book, but then you'd have to hear the same plot from THIRTEEN points of view, instead of a mere TWELVE. Sophisticated intelligence, beautiful prose, and intricate plotting, become less so when redundant and complicated.
(A big) -- However... a friend tells me this is a book I would absolutely love if I read the book, which contains charts, graphs, and a very important list of characters, all adding clarity and an ease to the read, as well as beautifully tying in the astrological twist. For clarification, I did not like the book as I experienced it audibly, but I did recognize the talent and creativity enough to consider picking up the book and giving it another chance. It's is going to take me a while before I'm ready to tackle all 30 hours of this again. A consideration for those still undecided. Hopefully, a little understanding before going in will be helpful.
The pacing of this book is such that reading it myself, I found that I was skipping. One of the things I enjoy the most about audio books is being forced to slow down and enjoy the language. Maybe the complex structural devices do not come through in this experience, but the language is enhanced.
The outstanding character was none of the individuals, but rather the environment. Obviously I have no direct experience of gold mining on the West Coast in the 1800s, but I came away with a vivid picture in my mind.
Recently I listened to an interview by Orson Scott Card where he stated that some books are made to be read out loud. The Luminaries is one of those books. The range of characters, accents and the language make listening far more enjoyable than reading.Sometimes I read for plot, and sometimes for the rhythm and language, and while the plot is good, it is not the primary value of this book.
i like to read. i like to listen.
I LOOOVVVEEED THIS BOOK!!!
how did this novel only take 2 years to write? and how was eleanor catton only 27 years old when it was published??? i feel like the amount of detail about astrology and historical realism in this book would have...should have...taken 10 years to research and work out. never mind the way the the waning of the chapters, following the moon cycles grow progressively longer and then extremely short. the chapter introductions,...growing progressively longer and longer and longer. the astrological star titles given to each character, and astrological house given to each location, all switching prominence and even switching moods as their charts change. the layers of discovery...stories within stories...how each chapter breaks the belief i had in different character's motives and actions.
even WITHOUT the structural complexity of this novel, it's a winner in my eyes. even WITH the structural complexity, it seemed like an easy read, and it didn't seem as long as it is. and i must admit...i think some of the structural complexity was lost to me!!!
the novel offers up theatrical settings with secrets and sex and drugs and mystery. lively characters, even without much depth, tromp in and out of the chapters....tangling a web that you think is going to be unraveled. but keeps getting even more twisted.
so many people have said this book is a 'difficult' read...but i did not find even one page of it difficult. this really is a book that is pure joy to read. PURE JOY.
i am so excited to revisit this novel again and again throughout the rest of my life...to me, it's one of those books i will never ever forget and never ever just leave on the shelf.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
This is an outstanding second novel from this young woman. It has all the hallmarks of a Dickensian novel; complex plot, numerous characters, intrigue, a Court case, coincidence, violence and era. The characters are well developed caricatures; Carver is the malevolent villain, Lydia the scheming widower, Anna the innocent girl gone astray and Moody the son stepping out of his father's dark shadow.
I agree with other reviewers that a List of Characters is essential (so I got myself a copy from the front of the printed text - it's not yet on Wiki), but I disagree that the diagrams in the text are at all helpful. The diagrams only make sense if you can read astrological charts (which I cannot) and I suggest are more confusing than enlightening.
I also agree that the tale is too long. It could easily have ended after the trial. Sure, there would have been loose ends, but there were some anyway (what happened to Moody's father, for example). The conceit of the structure (very clever, admittedly) would have suffered, but not the novel. I read an extract of an interview with the author where she postulated that the structure-plot tension was part of an experiment to see if the former could be maintained without expense to the latter. On the evidence of this attempt, I would answer the question, "No".
As for the performance, I thought Mark Meadows did a sterling job. His narrator's voice reminds me of Jack Davenport (from "Coupling"), or perhaps Arthur Dent's voice from the BBC version of "Hitchhiker's Guide", while his Lauderback was Roland Coleman-like (or perhaps more accurately, Don Adams mimicking Coleman). His female characterisations were good, too, but even he could not capture the difficult to credit transition of Anna from innocent to whore and back again.
Overall, the title is well worth the listen to about the end of Part 8 or 9. After that, I don't think you will miss much in the way of plot, except for the frustration of the summary being longer than the chapter that follows.
I have to say that this book was extraordinarily clever. You would probably have to read it more than once to really appreciate the extent of the acumen that was needed to write it. The ability to combine astrology with a unique place and time (1860's Gold Rush in New Zealand) signals a very talented writer. The swirling of characters as they mirror the night sky made for a great tale, and yet there was something lacking. The attention was placed so much on the "mechanics" of it all that it lacked emotion. And, real attachment to any one character was just not possible. In the end, all the players were just living descriptors of the signs and planets, seemingly lacking any soul...which is why any good astrologer knows that a chart is nothing without the influence of spirit.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of this book and one that may slip a bit by in the audio format is the intricate structure /construct of this story. The book is set up precisely under the rules and timing of the wheeling astrological constellations and planetary influences on the trajectories and lives of twelve luminary characters and about 6 other important characters starting precisely on January 27, 1866 - ____1867 ~ at a precise compass point location in New Zealand (important for precise astrological charting of predestination?).
There are 12 parts of the novel that wane without waxing like the moon during that year. Each part is roughly half the length of the section that precedes it and the concept of halving and halving again is repeated often by different characters. The first part was fun for me and was a relatively interesting, and brilliantly written 358-ish pages long. The final part (Part-12) is only TWO pages long then poof, it over...I guess only to live on differently as the moon wanes anew and characters start their lying and deceit yet again I am guessing with a variance here or there and resulting different trajectories, or not, thus only to repeat pre-determined charted paths. I was quite surprised to realize that the story actually ends quite few hours before (300 pages or so) before the discussion on the two page final Part 12 section is interrupted and the book ends.
All events and characters reel/wheel under the influence of the planets and stars and time as it exists in the mathematically precise/predestined astrological realm except for one and only one character (the murder victim) who had a "Terrestrial" influence. I don't really know why as of this second reading, but, and I am guessing, but I think by the authors design to let the story wane and wane and wane I doubt any reader would care much about the victim or in the end about any of the characters or their lives. Is the author really not intending to tell any story ...changing what a novel is or definition of fiction...Why don't I care by the end? This is astounding as this author is a brilliant writer and spends hours describing her characters very intimately from both the inside and outside views from the perspective of many others from their in-most and their out-most "selves" and at varying levels I cared about each then lost the ability to care...again I think this was intentionally planned by the author, but I am not able to explain why coherently. I am still pondering this and wonder what other readers think or feel or know.
Concepts I liked pondering:
• Twins. Twin-ship. There are countless scenes where characters look into mirrors in the present time or as a memory and reflect on the mirror images of themselves and how this image influences everything. Characters ponder others viewing their mirror images and wondering if others would be surprised by the image they see of themselves and especially if that certain person gets surprised after looking into a mirror because the image proves they forgot a major event...More importantly can people be so linked they change places in time and place and are mirror twins?
• References to a "Twinkle" do not refer to stars but a means of cheating with a mirror at gambling which I won't disclose. Actually the language in the entire story is so well lit...well illuminated and full of mirror folding's and unfolding's.
• What is truth...the whole truth...is a whole truth possible? Is truth circular?
• Everyone lies all the time but what is the morality of lying to ones-inner most self , their outer-most self or others intentionally or inadvertently?
• What is more important...truth or loyalty?
Of course greed and money were key movers of the "plot" or storyline and while none are original an audio listener might do well to follow the money, the dresses and make their own Cliff's notes if they continue to care as the story does fold over itself repeatedly and there are new reveals but other obfuscations. There are many magical turnings based on the spirit of an ancient land and the effect of humans on this realm and vise versa to which I would pay more attention should I listen again. I'd keep better track of the Aurora land and image.
This could be viewed as a brilliant spoof of a Victorian novel and, if so, is well done. I liked the use of the chapter headings such as "Where the ___ get caught in a lie" and where X takes a big fall...At times it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery where there is a gathering of people and one "Mind" dices and slices each characters slice and version of an event...the "mind" of the story which solves the mystery. In this story the "Mind" telling the story changes from character to character from time to time...Time and events are clarified then blurred again until I as the reader did not believe any truth or story remained after the waning of the interrupted anti-climatic end. But I am confident I have only brushed the surface of this strangely strange "story". I await the thoughts of other readers!!
Obsessive audiobook listener....
I've had this book sitting on my bedside table for months; I finally broke down and got the audio book. I'm so glad I did. It's completely and totally engrossing--I was glad it was so long just because I was enjoying the story so much! After the Hillary Mantel books, probably my favorite Booker winner in a long time. The narrator is fabulous--he does accents incredibly well and in all but a few cases pronounces the Maori words accurately, which is a rarity. One quibble: Unless the pronunciation was different in the 19th century, Hokitika is pronounced Hoe-ka-tick-a, not Hah-ka-tee-ka; since that town is mentioned many, many, many times, the mispronunciation is a bit grating, but otherwise, his performance really makes the story come alive.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
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.
I don't buy into trends or hype. I don't want to read a book that everyone loved, because honestly, everyone's tastes aren't the same as mine. I like books that challenge, that awe and astound, that push me to think in a way I haven't before. I won't read a book just because it won an award.
That being said, after reading the synopsis of this book, I decided to read it anyway. It sounded new and different. But I was disheartened by all of the negative reviews. Again, I decided to read it anyway. And I'm glad I did.
The characters are rich and well developed. And although there are a lot of them, it's not difficult to keep them all straight because of their individuality.
Something that everyone is talking about is the astrological formula Ms. Catton used. While I agree that it does sound like a creative writing class prompt, I do not consider that a bad thing. What does it matter how you get there? It only matters that what you have when you get there is something you're proud of, and, hopefully, something that people want to read. I think she has been successful on both counts. To me, the astrological aspect didn't matter a great deal over all. That is to say, it neither added nor subtracted from the story.
I'm happy with the time I spent listening to this book. It allowed me to look at a time and place I generally would have to reason to consider.
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.
"Mark Meadows is amazing"
Mark Meadows is so talented a reader and actor and interpreter of fiction that he rescued this interminable book for me. I read it for my book group and only managed it because of the reader's great work, which made it interesting for me.
Possibly I now have an inch more interest in the history of New Zealand.
Look, opinions are sharply divided on this book. Mostly it annoyed me, but lots of people love it. I thought it intricate and clever, but completely hollow.
Not one thing. God bless him.
Just really wanted to sing Mark Meadows' praises.
"Ambitious as Middlemarch but without the skill"
This book reminds me of George Eliot's Middlemarch in its attempt to describe a whole community and how it interacts, and in the author's interposing of comments about human nature or philosophical observations on life. But whereas Eliot's characters have roundness and depth and come to life, those in The Luminaries are so cardboard I have trouble remembering which is which,so that at each turn of plot I have to work out who this is happening to and how it is likely to affect him or her. (Her is easier as there are only two females).This makes it very hard to empathise with the characters and care about what happens to them. I am only about half-way through, but I'm not sure I'll make it to the end.
To continue the comparison,where Eliot's authorial observations are apposite, insightful, and have a ring of truth, those in The Luminaries are unconvincing and tedious.
The performance is very good, and the narrator's skilful delivery of a variety of accents does
help to distinguish some individuals from the amorphous mass of masculinity (without it I would be really lost.)
I cannot begin to understand why this novel won the Booker Prize. But then, I only got through half of Wolf Hall before boredom overcame me, so perhaps I just don't have the intellectual stamina to cope with Booker Prize material.
"I just didnt get it."
I found this dull and over long. I think the author was paid by the word as you hear the whole story and then it is repeated.
As short less repetitive book would have been much better.
Mr Carver as he was the only character that bought a bit of drama to the whole proceedings.
I got value for money as it was such a long audio book.
I would listen to this while doing chores around the house. I listened every day. After 3 days my wife asked why I was replaying the book ? I replied, I wasn't and that the story is often repeated. Her reply was how dull. I agree.
"Awful, I was unable to get into this."
Avoid. I tried to get into the story and found myself drifting off. I found the characters difficult to follow.
"Best book so far after 4 years on audible"
Great story, great narration, great listen made even better as I was on hols in the South Island New Zealand at the time.
I am still trying to get past the first few chapters - has anyone actually finished it - I have asked friends who are all struggling with it - I will get there one day but am just interested to know what other listeners/readers think
"Please may I have 30 hours of my life back?"
An ending worthy of the staggeringly intricate story.
Some pulp fiction. I need to detox from this book.
Whatever Mark Meadows was paid for his narration was not enough. He is a complete genius. His narration was the only thing that kep me going to the bitter end, to be honest. I reckon my favourite characterization was Reverend Devlin Cowell. Meadows pulled off an almost perfect Belfast accent for the Reverend.
All of them.
This massive book is a technical tour-de-force, no doubt about it. And Catton's command of Victorian-era stylistic prose is extraordinary. Her ability to succinctly convey the human condition in its myriad forms is a genuine treat. But...the destination just isn't worth the journey. The whole experience reminded me of how I felt after Stephen King's The Green Mile. Please, Audible, reclassify this book as Magical Realism before hundreds of other poor saps waste three weeks of their lives persevering with this.
"The best story I've come across in years."
Brilliantly constructed and beautifully written. A thoroughly engaging story. Must have taken an extraordinary amount of research.
Loved the characterisations. Very well done throughout.
The book was, moving, humorous in parts and emotionally engaging. I really did not expect to enjoy it so much. Commanded my attention throughout.
I could not stop listening even when it was time to cook the dinner!
"Not My Usual Cup Of Tea"
The narration was good and the pace of the story was excellent.
Find it difficult to compare with another book as I really have read nothing like it before.
Have not listened to Mark Meadows before but will definitely look out for him again.
Only bought the book because of online recommendation but have really enjoyed what for me is a very new gendre of reading. Will look out for more Eleanor Catton books and also for the narrator Mark Meadows.
Yes, it's a great story, well told, it does have the odd slow bit but overall really enjoyable. It's a mix of historical novel, western (though set in NZ) and thriller
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