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
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 864 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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Walter Moody was not superstitious, though he derived great enjoyment from the superstitions of others, and he was not easily deceived by impression, though he took great care in designing his own. This owed less to his intelligence, however, than to his experience—which, prior to his departure for New Zealand, could be termed neither broad nor varied in its character. In his life so far he had known only the kind of doubt that is calculated and secure. He had known only suspicion, cynicism, probability—never the fearful unraveling that comes when one ceases to trust in one's own trusting power; never the dread panic that follows this unraveling; never the dull void that follows last of all. Of these latter classes of uncertainty he had remained, until recently at least, happily unconscious. His imagination did not naturally stray to the fanciful, and he rarely theorized except with a practical purpose in mind. His own mortality held only an intellectual fascination for him, a dry luster; and, having no religion, he did not believe in ghosts.

The full account of what transpired during this last leg of the voyage is Moody's own, and must be left to him. We think it sufficient to say, at this juncture, that there were eight passengers aboard the Godspeed when she pulled out of the harbor at Dunedin, and by the time the barque landed on the Coast, there were nine. The ninth was not a baby, born in transit; nor was he a stowaway; nor did the ship's lookout spot him adrift in the water, clinging to some scrap of wreckage, and give the shout to draw him in. But to say this is to rob Walter Moody of his own tale—and unfairly, for he was still unable to recall the apparition wholly to his own mind, much less to form a narrative for the pleasures of a third.

In Hokitika it had been raining for two weeks without reprieve. Moody's first glimpse of the township was of a shifting smear that advanced and retreated as the mist blew back and forth. There was only a narrow corridor of flat land between the coastline and the sudden Alps, battered by the endless surf that turned to smoke on the sand; it seemed still flatter and more contained by virtue of the cloud that sheared the mountains low on their flanks and formed a gray ceiling over the huddled roofs of the town. The port was located to the south, tucked into the crooked mouth of a river, rich in gold, which became a lather where it met the salt edge of the sea. Here at the coast it was brown and barren, but upriver the water was cool and white, and said to gleam. The river mouth itself was calm, a lakelet thick with masts and the fat stacks of steamers waiting for a clearer day; they knew better than to risk the bar that lay concealed beneath the water and shifted with each tide. The enormous number of vessels that had foundered on the bar were scattered as unhappy testament to the hazard below. There were thirty-some wrecks in total, and several were very new. Their splintered hulks wrought a strange barricade that seemed, dismally, to fortify the township against the open sea.

The barque's captain dared not bring the ship to port until the weather improved, and instead signaled for a lighter to convey the passengers over the rolling breakers to the sand. The lighter was crewed by six—grim Charons to a man, who stared and did not speak as the passengers were lowered by chair down the heaving flank of the Godspeed. It was awful to crouch in the tiny boat and look up through the impossible rigging of the ship above—she cast a dark shadow as she rolled, and when at last the line was struck and they pulled away into open water, Moody felt the lightness on his skin. The other passengers were merry. They exclaimed about the weather, and how splendid it had been to come through a storm. They wondered about each shipwreck that they passed, sounding out the names; they spoke of the fields, and the fortunes they would find there. Their cheer was hateful. A woman pressed a phial of sal volatile into the bone of Moody's hip—"Take it quiet, so the others don't come wanting"—but he pushed her hand away. She had not seen what he had seen.

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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