Excerpt from The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Luminaries

A Novel

by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2013, 848 pages
    Oct 2014, 864 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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Print Excerpt

Balfour, still beaming, waved the compliment aside. "Persuasion's tricks and cleverness. I'm speaking plain."

"I thank you for it."

"Yes, yes," Balfour said agreeably. He seemed to be enjoying himself very much. "But now you must tell me about your family quarrel, Mr. Moody, so that I may judge if your name is sullied, in the end."

"Forgive me," Moody murmured. He glanced about, perceiving that the clergyman had returned to his seat, and was now absorbed in his paper. The man next to him—a florid type, with an imperial mustache and gingery hair—appeared to have fallen asleep.

Thomas Balfour was not to be deterred. "Liberty and security!" he cried, waving his arm again. "Is that not what it comes down to? You see, I know the argument already! I know the form of it! Liberty over security, security over liberty…provision from the father, freedom for the son. Of course the father might be too controlling—that can happen—and the son might be wasteful…prodigal…but it's the same quarrel, every time. Lovers too," he added, when Moody did not interject. "It's the same for lovers, too: at bottom, always, the same dispute."

But Moody was not listening. He had forgotten, for a moment, the creeping ash of his cigar, and the warm brandy pooling in the bottom of his glass. He had forgotten that he was here, in a hotel smoking room, in a town not five years built, at the end of the world. His mind had slipped, and returned to it: the bloody cravat, the clutching silver hand, the name, gasped out of the darkness, again and again, Magdalena, Magdalena, Magdalena. The scene came back to him all in a snatch, unbidden, like a shadow passing coldly over the face of the sun.

Moody had sailed from Port Chalmers aboard the barque Godspeed, a stout little craft with a smartly raked bow and a figurehead of painted oak—an eagle, after St. John. On a map the journey took the shape of a hairpin: the barque set off northward, traversed the narrow strait between two seas, and then turned south again, to the diggings. Moody's ticket afforded him a narrow space below decks, but the hold was so foul-smelling and close that he was compelled to spend most of the voyage topside, hunched below the gunwales with his leather case clasped wetly to his chest and his collar turned up against the spray. Crouched as he was with his back to the view, he saw very little of the coastline—the yellow plains of the East, which gave way by subtle incline to greener heights, and then the mountains, blue with distance, above them; further north, the verdant fjords, hushed by still water; in the West, the braided streams that tarnished when they met the beaches, and carved fissures in the sand.

When the Godspeed rounded the northern spit and began her passage southward, the weatherglass began to fall. Had Moody not been so ill and wretched he might have felt afraid, and made his vows: drowning, the boys on the docks had told him, was the West Coast disease, and whether he could call himself a lucky man was a question that would be settled long before he reached the goldfields, and long before he first knelt down to touch the edge of his dish to the stones. There were as many lost as landed. The master of his vessel—Captain Carver was his name—had seen so many lubbers washed to their deaths from his station on the quarterdeck that the whole ship might properly be called a graveside—this last spoken with a hushed solemnity, and wide eyes.

The storm was borne on greenish winds. It began as a coppery taste in the back of one's mouth, a metallic ache that amplified as the clouds darkened and advanced, and when it struck, it was with the flat hand of a senseless fury. The seething deck, the strange whip of light and shadows cast by the sails that snapped and strained above it, the palpable fear of the sailors as they fought to hold the barque on her course—it was the stuff of nightmare, and Moody had the nightmarish sense, as the vessel drew closer and closer to the goldfields, that she had somehow willed the infernal storm upon herself.

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.

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