Book Review: The Luminaries

                                       The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

luminIn 1866 Walter Moody arrives in the gold-mining town of Hokitika, New Zealand to seek his fortune and escape his tangled family-life at home in the UK. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles upon a group of 12 men meeting to discuss three seemingly unrelated crimes that have taken place on the same day: the disappearance of a wealthy prospector, the suicide attempt of a local opium-addicted prostitute, and the huge cache of gold found in the home of the now-deceased town drunk. At first glance, The Luminaries appears to be a historical murder mystery, but as the story unfolds, the reader quickly realizes that everything is interwoven and nothing, even the story itself, is what it seems.

Catton’s writing is exact, vivid and beautiful. She writes in the style and voice of Victorian authors with a bit of a modern twist; The Luminaries is almost a satire of 19th century mysteries but still earnest. The story is very intricately plotted and the book itself is uniquely structured.

The astrological chart is the basis for the ambitious, unique structure of the book. However, knowledge of astrology is not necessary to understand or enjoy the novel.  There are 12 parts to the novel, each part shorter than the last to reflect the waning moon in its lunar cycle. Each of the 12 men’s astrological signs directs their character and the part they play in the overall plot. Catton names them as the stellar characters and they truly orbit around the seven planetary characters:  Walter Moody and the individuals at the center of each crime.  The cyclical nature of both the lunar cycle and human history also plays a big role in fleshing out the plot and tying all the events and perspectives together.

The Luminaries will appeal to readers of literary fiction, Victorian literature, experimental literature, fans of Sherlock Holmes novels or the current BBC show, and fans of movies with non-linear plots such as Memento, The Usual Suspects or Mulholland Drive.

The Luminaries won the 2013 Man Booker Prize and is unique in two regards: at 823 pages it is the longest novel to win and at age 28 Eleanor Catton is the youngest author to win. While much longer than the average novel, the tightly plotted and fast-paced storytelling will keep readers engaged until the very end.

The Luminaries is available in the General Collection under the call number PR 9639.4 .C39 L86 2013

– Christina Nofziger, Access Services Specialist

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