Summary and book reviews of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries

A Novel

By Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2013,
    848 pages.
    Paperback: 7 Oct 2014,
    864 pages.

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Book Summary

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.



I
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 dress—frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill—they 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 railway—deadened here not by the slur and clunk of...

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    Man Booker Prize
    2013

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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. Both the characters and the plot are complex and complicated. At times I felt as though I was working a sort of puzzle, trying to fit together pieces I wasn't sure were from the same box.   (Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Peter Hobbs, author of In the Orchard, the Swallows
Sometimes – rarely – a novel arrives that is so good all you can do is shake your head in wonder. Brilliant in design, masterful in execution, and intensely pleasurable to inhabit, The Luminaries is a masterpiece, the work of a writer of apparently limitless range and talent.

Author Blurb Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
All really good books shatter their generic origins, becoming a thing unto themselves. But rarely has this axiom held more firmly than in Eleanor Catton's thrilling – in every sense – second novel. The sheer weight of the narrative might seem daunting; but dismiss that. She is among the finest of storytellers, drawing us forward through a labyrinth of lives, all of them converging in ways you could never easily imagine. I didn't want this novel to end.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With a knack for conveying robust detail in an economy of straightforward language, Catton untangles a dazzling knot of interwoven lives...

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. There's a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It's work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind.

The Guardian

Her second novel, a great doorstopper of a murder mystery set against the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s,, looks at first sight very different; but it carries forward both her epic ambition and commitment to the sensuous pleasures of reading. She does not make things easy for herself: she has organised her 800-page epic according to astrological principles, so that characters are not only associated with signs of the zodiac, or the sun and moon (the "luminaries" of the title), but interact with each other according to the predetermined movement of the heavens, while each of the novel's 12 parts decreases in length over the course of the book to mimic the moon waning through its lunar cycle. But while she has set herself such arcane formal constraints, much of the novel's appeal lies in the fact that it is a compulsive thriller.

Daily Telegraph

Catton is completely in control of all the bustling, brawling plot lines of 'this very circular affair', as if they really were determined by the astrological patterns she playfully invokes. Just as one character bursts out laughing in appreciation when he realises a villain has signed a deed with an ambiguous signature, the reader feels similar flashes of pleasure in the author’s forethought.

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New Zealand's Gold Rush

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 British—coming most recently from the goldmines of the southern Australian state of Victoria. Chinese immigrants participated in the exploration as well as native Maoris.

Mining for gold along beaches Gold mining was a tough ...

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