The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

“A woman fallen has no future; a man risen has no past.”

― Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

73.Eleanor Catton-The Luminaries

When we decided to start the blog, it seemed to me that a great opening gambit would be to complete the Booker Challenge and review those six esteemed titles of 2013. I thought, what better way to alert the world to the timely, informed entry of Franny & Perks to the book blogosphere than to complete something most literary fiction readers did last September.

I also decided to open with the winner. I should warn ahead of time that this first Perks Book Review entry is going to be a gushing cascade on the brilliance of said winner. I was not prepared for how much I would love this book, but think it only fair you are prepared to read a book review that could stray into the realms of awkwardly enthusiastic.

I am aware that this strength of passion exists for a number of reasons besides the pure brilliance of the novel. None more so than the fact I have in visited that most remote of settings, Hokitika on the West Coast of New Zealand. As the author herself admitted in a question and answer session in Islington, the West Coast is hard to envisage unless you have witnessed it first-hand. The sheer overwhelming savagery of nature in this remote part of the world finally defined the word sublime for me. The churning, cruel grey sea to the left and the dominance of the vast Alps to the right define a journey I shall not forget until age fails me. To have battled with those savage elements (admittedly, in a large orange campervan) that push Moody in from the cold and define so much of the atmosphere of the novel was an important influence to the immense power of the book over me.

The aspects of the novel people have criticised, I believe are some of its greatest attributes. People often complain about the amount of complex characters that one must get to grips with in the book. Right from the beginning, thirteen men are gathered in one room, in the first and largest of the books twelve parts. We must get to grips with all of their characters and the complex ways their lives intertwine. Catton has spoken about using a map of the night sky from 27th of January 1866 as the basis of her story and here we meet her zodiac, all setting forth their version of a mystery that threads around the tiny goldrush town, involving everyone and yet seemingly implicating no one.

I am also enamoured with the novel’s sheer sprawling vastness. It reminded me so often of those empty plains on the West Coast where you saw no living being for hours at a time. As previously expressed, I found the sense of place overwhelming in this novel. I was honestly very surprised when a lady in Islington complained to the author that she didn’t find the geographical movement of the novel easy to follow without a map. But then, she was a JAFA (little inside joke for any NZ readers who might drop by…) The vastness is such that even when considering the length of the novel, the sheer amount of intricacies, plot twists and layers to these celestial characters mean that the pages seem hardly enough to contain it all.

The sections of the book halve on us as the story continues, picking up the pace of a tale that began so languidly. All too soon, it is an experience that is over, the 800 odd pages gone before you know it. The novel has what can only be termed a beautiful ending, brought too fast for me in the final, smallest section of the novel. It was unconventional, heart breaking and even though it detailed events chronologically from before the beginning, Catton let me understand and left me with that rare sensation of being satisfied to leave a novel that had consumed me so entirely.

I hope this rather rambling but sincere tribute to a book I have truly loved leaves you ready to give The Luminaries a try – more so I hope it rewards you as much as it did me.

– Perks




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