Monday, February 24, 2014

THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton

            The Luminaries, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, is a superb novel. At 830 pages, it is a long novel; nonetheless, reading each of those 830 pages was a pleasurable experience.

            Walter Moody is a young Scotsman who traveled to New Zealand to make his fortune in gold. Although, at the beginning, I believed that the book to be about Moody, in fact, the focus of the novel is the meeting of the twelve into which Moody happens to stumble.

            Catton is a true master of character development. After a detailed description of the meeting, the novel launches into a study of these characters and their interrelationship. At this point, the novel appears to be simply a wonderful character study. But then the novel morphs into a mystery, with a touch of the mysterious.

            This detailed character analysis makes for a slow start to the novel. But, it is well worth wading through; as the book progresses, the speed of the read also increases. And, after page 830, I closed the book, still wanting more.

            For the most part, Catton’s writing is detailed and picturesque. There are a few phrases, however, that I found troublesome: for example, when Catton described the “seething deck” (p. 18) of the boat in the storm and the sky that was “the splendid yellow of a fresh yolk” (p. 523). More often than not, however, her writing paints beautiful pictures:

     The incomer wore a long gray coat with velvet-faced lapels and turned velvet cuffs; the coat was made of a tight weave of some shiny, sealskin-like variety that turned an oily color when he moved. His cravat was piled high at his throat, and the lapels of his shawl-collared waistcoat were turned up at the sides, lending an added bulk to his shoulders, and an added thickness to his neck. (p. 400)

But, perhaps these likes and dislikes simply reflect my petty preferences in writing styles.

            There is, however, one thing troubling me about The Luminaries. Astrology is woven throughout the book. I do not understand the Astrology, and I worry that this plays an important role in the novel that I am totally missing.

            I greatly enjoyed The Luminaries. Reading this novel was a wonderful experience, and uncovering Catton’s notion of a luminary was enlightening.


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