Literary Fiction · review · Review Copy

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton


Paperback, 848 pages
Published July 29th 2014 by Emblem Editions
Source: Publisher

This book took me five months to read. Usually, I read abnormally fast. Seriously, I can read an 800 page fantasy novel in a day. But this one? Took me forever.

Probably because the first chapter is so long and uneventful? We have a man arriving at a coastal town in New Zealand, he goes to a hotel and interrupts a meeting in the parlour. There’s something about a whore, a missing and presumed dead rich guy, and some kind of grand conspiracy.

The writing is absolutely lovely and words flow like water across smoothed stones. I loved how cleverly the story inside is unwrapped and how all the perspectives are tackled. The novel is certainly spectacular and incredibly complex and I understand why it won the Man Booker.

And I could spend a lot of time talking about the research Catton must have done, the mastery with which she wrote about the landscape, the knowledge implied in the way she sketches the time periods and brings the gold prospectors to life. The multi-layered narrative, the back stories: the book is immense and grand and an achievement for its young author.

However, all these credentials do not take away one simple fact: I was largely bored by the novel. It certainly has moments of action and movement that engaged me but just when my interest was on the cusp of being fully invested, things turned maudlin. Even the pay-off didn’t have as much impact as implied by the length of the novel. I don’t regret reading it but it doesn’t make me want to go out and buy any of Catton’s other works. I think this book could have been shortened considerably and remained a good book. But perhaps this feeling is because I am a modern reader and this genre is out of my comfort zone. Other reviews certainly do not agree with mine and I say the book is one you read at your own discretion and page.


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