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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
From the author of The Rehearsal comes a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems....
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
Eleanor Catton was only 22 when she wrote The Rehearsal, which Adam Ross in the New York Times Book Review praised as "a wildly brilliant and precocious first novel" and Joshua Ferris called "a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel." The Luminaries amply confirms that early promise, and secures Catton's reputation as one of the most dazzling and inventive young writers at work today.
A Sphere within a Sphere
27 January 1866
Mercury in Sagittarius
In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.
The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dressfrock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twillthey might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railwaydeadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain.
Such was the perception of Mr. Walter Moody, from where he stood in the doorway with his hand upon the frame. He was innocent of having disturbed any kind of private conference, for the speakers had ceased when they heard his tread in the passage; by the time he opened the door, each of the twelve men had resumed his occupation (rather haphazardly, on the part of the billiard players, for they had forgotten their places) with such a careful show of absorption that no one even glanced up when he stepped into the room.
The strictness and uniformity with which the men ignored him might have aroused Mr. Moody's interest, had he been himself in body and temperament. As it was, he was queasy and disturbed. He had known the voyage to West Canterbury would be fatal at worst, an endless rolling trough of white water and spume that ended on the shattered graveyard of the Hokitika bar, but he had not been prepared for the particular horrors of the journey, of which he was still incapable of speaking, even to himself. Moody was by nature impatient of any deficiencies in his own personfear and illness both turned him inwardand it was for this reason that he very uncharacteristically failed to assess the tenor of the room he had just entered.
Moody's natural expression was one of readiness and attention. His gray eyes were large and unblinking, and his supple, boyish mouth was usually poised in an expression of polite concern. His hair inclined to a tight curl; it had fallen in ringlets to his shoulders in his youth, but now he wore it close against his skull, parted on the side and combed flat with a sweet-smelling pomade that darkened its golden hue to an oily brown. His brow and cheeks were square, his nose straight, and his complexion smooth. He was not quite eight-and-twenty, still swift and exact in his motions, and possessed of the kind of roguish, unsullied vigor that conveys neither gullibility nor guile. He presented himself in the manner of a discreet and quick-minded butler, and as a consequence was often drawn into the confidence of the least voluble of men, or invited to broker relations between people he had only lately met. He had, in short, an appearance that betrayed very little about his own character, and an appearance that others were immediately inclined to trust.
Moody was not unaware of the advantage his inscrutable grace afforded him. Like most excessively beautiful persons, he had studied his own reflection minutely and, in a way, knew himself from the outside best; he was always in some chamber of his mind perceiving himself from the exterior. He had passed a great many hours in the alcove of his private dressing room, where the mirror tripled his image into profile, half-profile, and square: Van Dyck's Charles, though a good deal more striking. It was a private practice, and one he would likely have deniedfor how roundly self-examination is condemned, by the moral prophets of our age! As if the self had no relation to the self, and one only looked in mirrors to have one's arrogance confirmed; as if the act of self-regarding was not as subtle, fraught and ever-changing as any bond between twin souls. In his fascination Moody sought less to praise his own beauty than to master it. Certainly whenever he caught his own reflection, in a window box, or in a pane of glass after nightfall, he felt a thrill of satisfaction but as an engineer might feel, chancing upon a mechanism of his own devising and finding it splendid, flashing, properly oiled and performing exactly as he had predicted it should.
Excerpted from The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Copyright © 2013 by Eleanor Catton. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
At 848 pages, The Luminaries is the longest book I've ever read. And possibly the most complicated besides. There is a large cast of central playersnineteen live ones, one deadas well as additional supporting characters, each one contributing a crucial part to this lively and entertaining story, a mystery charged by all the deadly sins; most particularly greed and lust. Storylines are not always told in a linear fashion; we shift back and forth in time. Written in exquisite prose, Eleanor Catton weaves together many individual stories to paint a rich picture at a pivotal moment in history.
It is January 1866 in Hokitika, New Zealanda newly booming gold-mining townwhen Walter Moody, an upper-class, twenty-eight year old Englishman, steps into the smoking room of the Crown Hotel. He has just arrived in town after a harrowing journey aboard the vessel Goodspeed, sailed by Captain Francis Carver. For the moment, Moody is looking for nothing more than "a brandy, and a place to sit and close his eyes." However, he has stumbled onto a secret meeting between twelve of the town's most influential men. A shipping agent, banker, hotelier, newspaper man, chemist, merchant, justice's clerk, goldsmith, hatter turned opium dealer, jade hunter, chaplain, and gold magnate, have met to share information regarding a local mystery. Two are Chinese, one is a Maori native, and all of them are "bronzed and weathered in the manner of all frontiersmen." If they each share their knowledge, it seems that they may be able to determine a connection between several unsolved crimes.
Two weeks prior, a wealthy young gold miner, Emery Staines, went missing. On the same night, Anna Wetherell, a favorite prostitute with an opium habit almost overdosed; and a relative unknown, Crosbie Wells, is found deadleaving behind a bottle of laudanum under his bed and a fortune of gold from unknown origin. It seems that Captain Francis Carver and Crosbie Wells's widow, Lydia Carveraka Lydia Greenwayare somehow integral to each mystery. And, it turns out that even Moody has information that may help to make the situation clearer.
We get to know each man, and to a lesser degree the women, Anna and Lydiathrough the rich and specific details of their lives, as well as their interactions with one another prior to this meeting. It soon becomes clear that first appearances are deceptive and that no one is aware exactly how he or she is perceived by the others. The multiple viewpoints work surprisingly well to reveal the intricacies of relationships and the interconnectedness of separate individuals.
Both the characters and the plot are complex and complicated. At times I felt as though I was working with a puzzle, trying to fit together pieces I wasn't sure were from the same box. So, as answers to questions were revealed, it was immensely satisfying to see the way each piece was truly significant. However, when Catton presents a summary of events at the almost mid-way point, I must say I felt a little cheated after working so hard to keep the various characters straightbut relieved, too, to have a chance to put it all together before launching into the second half of this ambitious novel. As the various elements begin to fit together, the result is satisfying, even thrilling.
This is a book for a patient reader one who is willing to savor the small moments and precise painting of a town and the characters living within its boundaries. With the meticulous attention given to detail, it is as though Catton is building a place and populating it too. Yet, although the people and scenes are richly drawn and easy to imagine, the first half of this novel moves so slowly one cannot help but be aware of the author setting the stage. She is present as the all-knowing narrator, rather than fading into the background of the fictive dream. The pace picks up in the second half, and the sections are shorter, making for a much faster read. The reader is rewarded for earlier efforts.
The story is framed based on astrological concepts. Each character is given a rolestellar or planetaryand his or her related influence is specified in a "Character Chart" provided at the beginning. Each chapter starts by outlining astrological positions. It opens with "Mercury in Sagittarius" moving on to "Jupiter in Sagittarius" and so on. With the great cast of characters and complicated twisting and spiraling plot and mysteries, I didn't find these astrological references added anything to my understanding or enjoyment of the novel. Perhaps if I had a better understanding of astrology I would have appreciated the parallels more. Although my lack of knowledge did not impede my enjoyment of the novel, I felt as though these flourishes simply called attention to the author and her cleverness.
In addition to the marvelous character sketches and mind-boggling plot, the setting is fascinating. As a Californian, I was fully aware of the California gold rush of 1849, but had no idea a parallel event was taking place on the other side of the world. I find the ways that the discovery of gold changes a landscape and the people inhabiting that place, quite illuminating. Gold-mining leads to what Thomas Balfour, the shipping agent in this novel, calls "reverse alchemy the transformationnot into gold, but out of it." Occupations and fortunes change. Class has no meaning in this rough and rugged world. "A goldfield was a place of muck and hazard where a grocer's cradle might be thick with color, and lawyer's cradle might run dry; where there were no divisions."
One may have to work a little harder in reading The Luminaries, but the effort will provide a satisfying payoff.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize the award given to the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. Catton adds distinction to her award as the youngest person to receive this award and her book is the longest ever chosen for such recognition.
Reviewed by Sarah Tomp
The Luminaries is set in the New Zealand town of Hokitika during the nineteenth century gold rush. Hokitika is located on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island, which is one of three areas in the country where gold was found to be in sufficient quantity to mine.
Rumors of gold in a small part of New Zealand's North Island surfaced in the 1820s, but it wasn't until the first substantial discovery in 1852 in the center of the South Island that the search for gold began in earnest. The majority of New Zealand miners were Britishcoming most recently from the goldmines of the southern Australian state of Victoria. Chinese immigrants participated in the exploration as well as native Maoris.
Gold mining was a tough endeavor in New Zealand. The weather was often cold, the water sometimes icy, and there were no roads. Miners had to cut their way through thick brush. The gold was scattered over a large geographic area, requiring great amounts of persistence and hard travel in order to accumulate enough gold to ensure a worthwhile payment. Rushes that resulted in no gold were known as "Duffer's Rushes."
In addition to the challenges presented by the environment and the physical demands of the mining process, lawlessness prevailed. Unscrupulous individuals "salted claims," meaning they planted gold to give a false indication of the site's worth. Fights and claim-jumpinghaving one's claim stolenand even murder, were common problems.
The cumulative total of gold recovered from New Zealand is estimated at just 0.8% of the world total, and yet its discovery made a significant impact on the areas where it was found. Gold attracts people and these people need services, accelerating population growth and economic development. For example, today Hokitika is home to a population of about 3000 people, but shortly after its founding in 1864 it was one of New Zealand's most populous areas. The Luminaries is set against the backdrop of this high growth time period. Incidentally, Hokitika is a Maori word meaning 'place of return', a name referring to the town's riches in greenstone (pounamu), also known as nephrite jade.
Today, the hills and streams surrounding Hokitika still contain traces of gold and enthusiasts can be found trying their luck in places like Ross, south of the townthe site of the largest nugget ever found in New Zealand - weighing 2.8 kg (a little more than 5 pounds) which is about the size of a man's fist.
By Sarah Tomp
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