Review: The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton)

Loved this book. Couldn’t put it down!
The Stats
Book: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Published: Granta Books, 2013
Of interest: Winner, 2013 Man Booker Prize

The Plot
Set in 19th Century New Zealand, The Luminaries opens with the arrival of Scot Walter Moody in the thriving gold town of Hokitika. Come to make his fortune, and fleeing personal demons of his own, Moody stumbles upon a secret conference of local men who have gathered to discuss the strange events of the past fortnight. A wealthy man has disappeared, a whore has tried to end her life and a fortune has been found in the home of a drunk. Moody, along with the reader, is drawn into a twisting tale of love, death, and fortunes foul and fair.

My Verdict
Loved it and couldn’t put it down!

I loved this book, and despite having a very time-consuming 7 month old son, I polished it off in just under a week. This is really saying something, as my reading time is depleted and, at 832 pages, the book is no trifle.

I’d describe this as a literary whodunnit. The prose is skilful without being conceited, the style delightfully mimics that of a 19th Century British novel, taking itself seriously enough to come across as sincere, but not so seriously that it becomes farcical.

The suspense is masterfully handled, leaving the reader questioning, guessing, supposing, rethinking from the very first sentence, to the very last. There was a real pleasure in knowing as I read that I was being manipulated, skilfully, down false trails and into traps.

I loved little details like the ‘previews’ at the beginning of each Chapter (“In which Cowell Devlin makes a poor first impression…” etc); the strong spare prose; the use of the narrator, who smooths out each character’s tale to create a uniform voice and style, effectively playing all characters and none.

Best of all, I didn’t feel as though a single sentence was wasted. It’s long, that’s true, but only as long as it needs to be.

Most importantly, I closed the book with the overwhelmingly satisfied feeling that only a cracking story, woven by a true artist, can give.

If you liked this, you might also like
Arthur & George (Julian Barnes)
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Kate Summerscale)

Other reviews
Lucy Daniel at The Telegraph gave it 5 stars, here.

Bill Roorbach of the NY Times calls it a “remarkable second novel”, with “dazzling narration”, here.

David Hebblethwaite gives an astrologically and thematically insightful review, here. I particularly agree with his observation that you finish this book “grinning from ear to ear”.

Jon Page of bookseller Pages and Pages calls it “pure reading heaven” and “totally absorbing” in his review, here.

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