Book Reviews

Book Review: The Luminaries

The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4-4.5 star

I took up English at the age of 6 and struggled with it for the next 15 years or so. Unsurprisingly I failed English Literature countless times, yet I had gone on with life reading thousands of books written in this language. As such, I am unable to critique this book, perhaps, with some of the merit it deserve. For example, any accurate representation on the English language of the late 19th Century would have been completely lost on me. Regardless, after diligently pushing through the 800+ pages of this enormous book, I managed to finish this… sort-of masterpiece. This is my take on it.

The best part of this novel for me, is Catton’s consideration, albeit a small one, to the non Anglo-Saxon characters that form a complete backdrop to the gold rush era of New Zealand (and Australia). A token Maori appears occasionally as a supporting role. His participation in the overall mystery is small but the cultural significance of his presence quite large. The reality in those days were that the later migrants to the land of the long white cloud were profiteering from the riches of the land, whilst Te Rau is struggling to make end meet and has to advertise his role as a local guide to earn a few pennies. The Chinese, hardworking and industrious as they were in those challenging times, were rarely rewarded for that virtue but instead commonly regarded with derogatory and treated as second class.

The complexity of each character and the amount of research required to compile such an intricate plot is impressive to me. The story line involves 12 players of varying age, profession and origins. The tale unfolds through the point of view of each of them, while hard to follow at times, it adds a dimension to the book that goes beyond a simply mystery of dubious fortune, missing and murdered men. The execution is masterful, especially for a second-time novelist, I found that remarkable.

The length of the novel to me, is the imperfection, or perhaps it’s downfall. The book came into my possession for years. I had made several unsuccessful attempts to get into it prior to this one. I am glad I read it, however, the last 200 or so pages did not add much more to the novel hence resulted in a degree of boredom and frustration towards the end. If the book had been a little more concise and to the point, it may have earned itself a few more readers.

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