The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

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I got this book for Christmas last year and am honestly horrified that I only just recently got around to reading it! Normally I’m not a fan of award-winning books – they never really have a plot and I don’t ‘get’ what their big, important message is.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While the first chapter – which is a massive 360 pages long – was a little difficult to sink into, the rest of the book was so enchanting that I demand you persevere!!! 

Set on the New Zealand goldfields in 1866, ‘The Luminaries’ follows a group of thirteen men who, together, are trying to solve a series of mysterious crimes including the disappearance of a wealthy man, a whore’s attempted suicide and the discovery of an enormous sum of money in the home of a newly dead drunk.

The characters are incredibly well developed and engaging. I especially liked how Catton introduced us to the two major mysteries – Emery Staines (the wealthy man) and Anna Wetherell (the whore) – through other characters’ perceptions of them. It was a really fascinating insight into the workings of a small town in the 1800s.

I was a little perturbed by the ending, as I felt it didn’t really conclude. It just sort of left us hanging…. It took away from what had become a truly excellent storyline by not tying up loose ends. Some people enjoy the freedom to consider alternative endings, but I prefer mine nice and neat. But I hope that doesn’t deter you from reading – I still highly recommend it for its beautiful prose and the rest of the story!

Those intrigued by astrology will get a lot out of the story’s structure, which creates obvious metaphors from the star signs in which a scene is set. Not being interested and having no prior knowledge, I wasn’t a big fan of this aspect and skipped over the (what I believe are star charts) at the beginning of each chapter. 

Reading back on what I have written, I feel that I have not done this book justice. While there are definitely aspects of the novel which I just don’t seem to have understood properly, I still think that it is a worthwhile read. My biggest complaint is that the book could have ended earlier, cutting off reading time as well as leaving some new developments out so close to the novel’s close. However, the prose, the characters and the mystery of the New Zealand goldfields more than makes up for it. I never thought I could enjoy a Man Booker prize-winner this much and am so very glad I finally got around to reading it!

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