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.
“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)
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Pippa Lamb on 02-11-13
Beautifully written, but slower than a snail
Would you try another book written by Eleanor Catton or narrated by Mark Meadows?
Wonderfully written for the first 4 hours ...... after 8 hours of having barely progressed on the plot line, and going layer by layer over and over the initial two events .... I was rapidly losing interest. And another 12 hours to go. If her next book was more condensed, definitely as she is a remarkable writer. The narration was excellent.
What will your next listen be?
Something a LOT pacier.
What does Mark Meadows bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
Mark Meadows reads with good pace, and manages effectively to capture all of the different global accents of the characters - bar the Mauri who comes over in a South African rather than New Zealand accent.
Could you see The Luminaries being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?
Yes definitely film/tv material and would work well conversely being forced to be condensed - something which usually doesn't work from book to film.
31 of 31 people found this review helpful
By Cerisaye on 01-12-13
I tried but failed to like this book
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
I really struggled through this book, mainly because I just didn't care about ANY of its characters and the story wasn't gripping enough to engage my interest as it winds its way painfully slowly from beginning to damp squib ending. I didn't bother trying to understand the astrological aspect, though maybe had I read the novel rather than listened to it I might have got more from that. The chapter headings becoming progressively longer than the shortening chapters was tiresome. The way the story turns back on itself annoyed me, too, because it made me feel I wasn't getting anywhere despite devoting so many hours of my time listening to the book, hearing about the same few events from too many different perspectives. There is no emotional centre and the story ultimately doesn't seem to matter, since it just fizzles out. Seems to me the writer is more concerned with form and being clever, the novel as an intellectual exercise, which makes it shallow and heartless. I formed no attachment to any of the (too) many characters because they are not written as real people but the embodiment of astrological signs. If they adapt the book for the screen, which is inevitable, they should film it like the recent "Anna Karenina", a play on a theatrical stage.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Mark Meadows?
The skill of the reader was all that kept me going to the end. I suspect I would have abandoned the book had I been reading rather than listening. So yes, I would listen to another of his narrations.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
I was disappointed because I had high hopes going in. Normally I love long, meaty novels such as Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies", and have previously enjoyed 19th C pastiche such as Charles Palliser's "The Quincunx". I was frustrated that this novel puts form and structure above pace and narrative drive. I was annoyed that the final section (after the conclusion of the trial) adds little or nothing to the story to justify dragging out its length.
Any additional comments?
I did enjoy the period New Zealand setting and background detail about gold mining. Eleanor Catton is young and very talented, I am sure she will develop as a writer and produce something remarkable and enjoyable.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mel on 10-11-13
Not So Luminous
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.
116 of 135 people found this review helpful
By Allan Cumming on 31-10-13
Sometimes you need to have a book read to you
What made the experience of listening to The Luminaries the most enjoyable?
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.
Who was your favorite character and why?
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.
What does Mark Meadows bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
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.
42 of 50 people found this review helpful