Longlisted - Baileys Women's Prize 2014
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2013
Canadian Governor General's Literary Award, 2013.
It is 1866 and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore 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.
The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th-century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-20s, and will confirm for critics and listeners that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.
Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2007 and won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for The Rehearsal. She was the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to study for a year at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop in the US and went on to hold a position as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing there, teaching Creative Writing and Popular Culture. Eleanor won a 2010 New Generation Award. She now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
©2013 Eleanor Catton (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"The Luminaries is an impressive novel, captivating, intense and full of surprises." (Times Literary Supplement)
"The Luminaries is a breathtakingly ambitious 800-page mystery with a plot as complex and a cast as motley as any 19th-century doorstopper. That Catton's absorbing, hugely elaborate novel is at its heart so simple is a great part of its charm. Catton's playful and increasingly virtuosic denouement arrives at a conclusion that is as beautiful as it is triumphant." (Daily Mail)
"It is awesomely - even bewilderingly - intricate. There's an immaculate finish to Catton's prose, which is no mean feat in a novel that lives or dies by its handling of period dialogue. It's more than 800 pages long but the reward for your stamina is a double-dealing world of skullduggery traced in rare complexity. Those Booker judges will have wrists of steel if it makes the shortlist, as it fully deserves." (Evening Standard),br />"Eleanor Catton is nothing if not ambitious. Her latest novel, longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize, is an 828-page blockbuster. With astonishing intricacy and patient finesse, Catton brings to life the anomalous nature of 19th-century New Zealand." (Sunday Times)
"Expansive and quite superb. Catton writes with real sophistication and intelligence... with intricate plotting and carefully wrought scenes." (Scotsman)
"Every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner." (Guardian)
"For the scale of her ambition and the beauty of its execution, somebody should give that girl a medal." (Lucy Daniel, Daily Telegraph)
"a truly exciting new writer" (Kate Atkinson)
Wonderfully written for the first 4 hours ...... after 8 hours of having barely progressed on the plot line, and going layer by layer over and over the initial two events .... I was rapidly losing interest. And another 12 hours to go. If her next book was more condensed, definitely as she is a remarkable writer. The narration was excellent.
Something a LOT pacier.
Mark Meadows reads with good pace, and manages effectively to capture all of the different global accents of the characters - bar the Mauri who comes over in a South African rather than New Zealand accent.
Yes definitely film/tv material and would work well conversely being forced to be condensed - something which usually doesn't work from book to film.
I really struggled through this book, mainly because I just didn't care about ANY of its characters and the story wasn't gripping enough to engage my interest as it winds its way painfully slowly from beginning to damp squib ending. I didn't bother trying to understand the astrological aspect, though maybe had I read the novel rather than listened to it I might have got more from that. The chapter headings becoming progressively longer than the shortening chapters was tiresome. The way the story turns back on itself annoyed me, too, because it made me feel I wasn't getting anywhere despite devoting so many hours of my time listening to the book, hearing about the same few events from too many different perspectives. There is no emotional centre and the story ultimately doesn't seem to matter, since it just fizzles out. Seems to me the writer is more concerned with form and being clever, the novel as an intellectual exercise, which makes it shallow and heartless. I formed no attachment to any of the (too) many characters because they are not written as real people but the embodiment of astrological signs. If they adapt the book for the screen, which is inevitable, they should film it like the recent "Anna Karenina", a play on a theatrical stage.
The skill of the reader was all that kept me going to the end. I suspect I would have abandoned the book had I been reading rather than listening. So yes, I would listen to another of his narrations.
I was disappointed because I had high hopes going in. Normally I love long, meaty novels such as Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies", and have previously enjoyed 19th C pastiche such as Charles Palliser's "The Quincunx". I was frustrated that this novel puts form and structure above pace and narrative drive. I was annoyed that the final section (after the conclusion of the trial) adds little or nothing to the story to justify dragging out its length.
I did enjoy the period New Zealand setting and background detail about gold mining. Eleanor Catton is young and very talented, I am sure she will develop as a writer and produce something remarkable and enjoyable.
Audible addict with many hours spent listening to lighten the arduous business journeys in the car!
I have been a audible listener for 8 years and this is only the second book I have decided to not finish. I always buy unabridged books as I like the longer more detailed stories which have time to develop and reflect the authors true intention for the reader in terms of the characters and story line. Having read the reviews I excitably started listening but after a few hours wondered what I had bought. Yes it is descriptive in terms of the characters but often this is overstated and too detailed and detracts the listener from where the story is going. Eventually the feeling of actually getting nowhere in terms of the story line and realising that there probably won't be a breakthrough in terms of the plot has led me to take the decision to stop listening and put this one down to experience.As previously stated, I adore a longer story but really found I had to push myself to keep listening which as I listen for pleasure was not my idea of fun.
Performance was clear and easy to listen to.
Disappointment and wondering if it was just me who didn't get it?
In length it's number one! I started with the knowledge that this Booker Prize winner is long. People have seen the book & been daunted by its size. Audible is the obvious answer. It's still 29hrs, but life can go on alongside "reading" The Luminaries. Mark Meadows as narrator is excellent. His rendition differentiates the numerous characters to minimise confusion. It's a long and complex story which is well worth persisting with. The chapters start very long until near the end when the pace quickens with very short chapters. The passing of time is handled in an interesting way. Initially it's by the various characters relating their part in the story which centres on the death of an isolated man, the disappearance of another - young and newly successful in the gold rush - and the involvement of a young woman trapped by prostitution and opium. A mysterious fortune in gold and a universally despised sea captain link the characters. We gradually discover events over the past couple of years, whilst moving forward in the present. (19C New Zealand.) Eventually the past meets the present and we find the answer to the mysteries which bind the cast.
The complexity, the gentle unfolding and the vision of the life of the times.
Clarifies the complexity by differentiating the characters.
I would listen to it again if only to go over some of the details and see how it all hangs together.
I enjoyed the historical setting and the slow way the story unfolded. Trying to work out the chronological order of events was also an enjoyable challenge.
I enjoyed the scene where Walter Moody is reading some letters he's found. That's when events started to fall into place.
I thought the narration of this book was outstanding - there are lots of different characters and Mark Meadows brought each one to life with different accents and voices.
Reading the classics
The dickensian style of the narative.
any of the 19th centuary classics
excellent very easy listening
a very good mix of characters and a complicated interplay between them.
A brilliant acheivement for such a young author. A very good story well told,I would highly recommend this book
So many characters, and not a single one that I cared about. To be honest, at the end of the book I was thoroughly bored and happy it had finally finished.
It's bad enough on TV when you get told what's going to happen in the next section of the show, but to do that in every chapter of the book was really annoying.
I have no idea why we were told about signs of the zodiac or a co-ordinate at the start of each chapter, it had nothing to do with the story as far as I could tell.
The Maori guy (I can't find the spelling of his name anywhere). The accent and way of talking were excellent.
Actually, the performance by Mark Meadows was really good in general, just a bit soporific.
Disappointment and boredom
As I say in the title, I don't believe this book works as an audible book. Though very detailed and well written, there isn't enough narrative drive. I persevered until halfway through the first part and have given up listening.
It is The Greenfinch by Donna Tartt - I'm hooked already.
I shall buy the book and read it as I want to know what happens but can't dedicate 32 hours of my life listening to find out!
Definitely one of the most unusual books I have ever read. Essentially it is a crime story with a lot of historical fiction blended in. I think if one mixed up Thomas Hardy with Arthur Conan-Doyle one would get a similar result.
Set in a burgeoning mining town on the remote west coast of New Zealand's South Island (barely 20 years after the signing of the treaty which incorporated NZ into the British empire) the story revolves around an intriguing sequence of events and a large cast of interesting people.
Every vice is included: murder, robbery, fraud, lies, deceit, racial discrimination, battery and infanticide. There's opium, laudanum and a range of other toxic substances that are abused. There are seances, smoke and mirrors and prostitution to add spice to the lives of the people in the town. And there is love - innocent and fresh, and collusive and destructive.
The central story is complicated and is retold through the eyes of numerous characters. And it is only after it has been retold several times that the reader is able to piece the story together in its entirety. In telling the story Catton paints a comprehensive picture of life in a gold-rush town and of the early pioneers in New Zealand.
The link to astrology and the stellar references are a little obscure. Catton is a very accomplished writer and her research must have been exhaustive. Her characters are well drawn and her plot, although rather complicated, is credible and engaging.
On a dark and stormy night a young lawyer Walter Moody steps into the pub of the hotel where he has found lodgings after disembarking from a ship after a long voyage.
He interrupts a group of people having a private meeting in the bar, and so the mystery begins to unfold.
Even after 848 pages one is sad to see the narrative come to an end. The narrator is very good, juggling about five different accents throughout the novel.
"Not So Luminous"
I usually give in to the award winners, more out of a skeptical curiosity than the belief in some arbitrary group's promise that this will be *the best book I've read since...* I enjoy the mental argument that *they* got it wrong, as much as the agreement that *they* got it right, either way counting on being stirred enough by the read to have the passion for a discussion. In the case of the Luminaries, I get neither satisfaction. The only other short-listed Man Booker I've read this year is Harvest by Jim Crace -- it lost, and was about equally entertaining (as was Transatlantic, from the longlist). The word, I swore I'd never use in a review comes to mind -- meh (less a word than onomatopoeia) such a cop out, but the listen left me exhausted for the reasons I'll explain.
This is not a complaint, or to say I did not like the book. It is captivating and elaborately constructed with a great sense of place and time. The period details are transportive, in the beginning feeling much like a good Dickens pastiche. The characters, as many as there are months of the year, are each an astrological sign, or house, and the characteristics assigned to those distinctions, which she uses to prefix each chapter, as well as explain whom is in whose house, etc. Catton also enjoys some word-play in this complex production of writing and architecture -- writing each chapter with exactly half the words as the preceding chapter. All these pieces of construction are exceptionally ambitious and creative, but can be confusing and mentally labor intensive. (There is no explanation given in the audible version; I came to these realizations after banging my head against the wall for a couple of days, and relentlessly texting Darwin on the matter.)
Catton has definitely written an interesting novel, and written, and written, and belabored the plot until I just lost interest and wanted to move forward to a finish instead of reviewing, again, the events as told by each of the 12 characters involved. I would go into synopsis of the book, but then you'd have to hear the same plot from THIRTEEN points of view, instead of a mere TWELVE. Sophisticated intelligence, beautiful prose, and intricate plotting, become less so when redundant and complicated.
(A big) -- However... a friend tells me this is a book I would absolutely love if I read the book, which contains charts, graphs, and a very important list of characters, all adding clarity and an ease to the read, as well as beautifully tying in the astrological twist. For clarification, I did not like the book as I experienced it audibly, but I did recognize the talent and creativity enough to consider picking up the book and giving it another chance. It's is going to take me a while before I'm ready to tackle all 30 hours of this again. A consideration for those still undecided. Hopefully, a little understanding before going in will be helpful.
"Sometimes you need to have a book read to you"
The pacing of this book is such that reading it myself, I found that I was skipping. One of the things I enjoy the most about audio books is being forced to slow down and enjoy the language. Maybe the complex structural devices do not come through in this experience, but the language is enhanced.
The outstanding character was none of the individuals, but rather the environment. Obviously I have no direct experience of gold mining on the West Coast in the 1800s, but I came away with a vivid picture in my mind.
Recently I listened to an interview by Orson Scott Card where he stated that some books are made to be read out loud. The Luminaries is one of those books. The range of characters, accents and the language make listening far more enjoyable than reading.Sometimes I read for plot, and sometimes for the rhythm and language, and while the plot is good, it is not the primary value of this book.
"I almost let the reviews keep me from a good book"
I don't buy into trends or hype. I don't want to read a book that everyone loved, because honestly, everyone's tastes aren't the same as mine. I like books that challenge, that awe and astound, that push me to think in a way I haven't before. I won't read a book just because it won an award.
That being said, after reading the synopsis of this book, I decided to read it anyway. It sounded new and different. But I was disheartened by all of the negative reviews. Again, I decided to read it anyway. And I'm glad I did.
The characters are rich and well developed. And although there are a lot of them, it's not difficult to keep them all straight because of their individuality.
Something that everyone is talking about is the astrological formula Ms. Catton used. While I agree that it does sound like a creative writing class prompt, I do not consider that a bad thing. What does it matter how you get there? It only matters that what you have when you get there is something you're proud of, and, hopefully, something that people want to read. I think she has been successful on both counts. To me, the astrological aspect didn't matter a great deal over all. That is to say, it neither added nor subtracted from the story.
I'm happy with the time I spent listening to this book. It allowed me to look at a time and place I generally would have to reason to consider.
"fantastic novel, perfect narration. 5 STARS!"
I LOOOVVVEEED THIS BOOK!!!
how did this novel only take 2 years to write? and how was eleanor catton only 27 years old when it was published??? i feel like the amount of detail about astrology and historical realism in this book would have...should have...taken 10 years to research and work out. never mind the way the the waning of the chapters, following the moon cycles grow progressively longer and then extremely short. the chapter introductions,...growing progressively longer and longer and longer. the astrological star titles given to each character, and astrological house given to each location, all switching prominence and even switching moods as their charts change. the layers of discovery...stories within stories...how each chapter breaks the belief i had in different character's motives and actions.
even WITHOUT the structural complexity of this novel, it's a winner in my eyes. even WITH the structural complexity, it seemed like an easy read, and it didn't seem as long as it is. and i must admit...i think some of the structural complexity was lost to me!!!
the novel offers up theatrical settings with secrets and sex and drugs and mystery. lively characters, even without much depth, tromp in and out of the chapters....tangling a web that you think is going to be unraveled. but keeps getting even more twisted.
so many people have said this book is a 'difficult' read...but i did not find even one page of it difficult. this really is a book that is pure joy to read. PURE JOY.
i am so excited to revisit this novel again and again throughout the rest of my life...to me, it's one of those books i will never ever forget and never ever just leave on the shelf.
"Well lit only to Wane to a Sliver Moon"
Perhaps the most unique aspect of this book and one that may slip a bit by in the audio format is the intricate structure /construct of this story. The book is set up precisely under the rules and timing of the wheeling astrological constellations and planetary influences on the trajectories and lives of twelve luminary characters and about 6 other important characters starting precisely on January 27, 1866 - ____1867 ~ at a precise compass point location in New Zealand (important for precise astrological charting of predestination?).
There are 12 parts of the novel that wane without waxing like the moon during that year. Each part is roughly half the length of the section that precedes it and the concept of halving and halving again is repeated often by different characters. The first part was fun for me and was a relatively interesting, and brilliantly written 358-ish pages long. The final part (Part-12) is only TWO pages long then poof, it over...I guess only to live on differently as the moon wanes anew and characters start their lying and deceit yet again I am guessing with a variance here or there and resulting different trajectories, or not, thus only to repeat pre-determined charted paths. I was quite surprised to realize that the story actually ends quite few hours before (300 pages or so) before the discussion on the two page final Part 12 section is interrupted and the book ends.
All events and characters reel/wheel under the influence of the planets and stars and time as it exists in the mathematically precise/predestined astrological realm except for one and only one character (the murder victim) who had a "Terrestrial" influence. I don't really know why as of this second reading, but, and I am guessing, but I think by the authors design to let the story wane and wane and wane I doubt any reader would care much about the victim or in the end about any of the characters or their lives. Is the author really not intending to tell any story ...changing what a novel is or definition of fiction...Why don't I care by the end? This is astounding as this author is a brilliant writer and spends hours describing her characters very intimately from both the inside and outside views from the perspective of many others from their in-most and their out-most "selves" and at varying levels I cared about each then lost the ability to care...again I think this was intentionally planned by the author, but I am not able to explain why coherently. I am still pondering this and wonder what other readers think or feel or know.
Concepts I liked pondering:
• Twins. Twin-ship. There are countless scenes where characters look into mirrors in the present time or as a memory and reflect on the mirror images of themselves and how this image influences everything. Characters ponder others viewing their mirror images and wondering if others would be surprised by the image they see of themselves and especially if that certain person gets surprised after looking into a mirror because the image proves they forgot a major event...More importantly can people be so linked they change places in time and place and are mirror twins?
• References to a "Twinkle" do not refer to stars but a means of cheating with a mirror at gambling which I won't disclose. Actually the language in the entire story is so well lit...well illuminated and full of mirror folding's and unfolding's.
• What is truth...the whole truth...is a whole truth possible? Is truth circular?
• Everyone lies all the time but what is the morality of lying to ones-inner most self , their outer-most self or others intentionally or inadvertently?
• What is more important...truth or loyalty?
Of course greed and money were key movers of the "plot" or storyline and while none are original an audio listener might do well to follow the money, the dresses and make their own Cliff's notes if they continue to care as the story does fold over itself repeatedly and there are new reveals but other obfuscations. There are many magical turnings based on the spirit of an ancient land and the effect of humans on this realm and vise versa to which I would pay more attention should I listen again. I'd keep better track of the Aurora land and image.
This could be viewed as a brilliant spoof of a Victorian novel and, if so, is well done. I liked the use of the chapter headings such as "Where the ___ get caught in a lie" and where X takes a big fall...At times it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery where there is a gathering of people and one "Mind" dices and slices each characters slice and version of an event...the "mind" of the story which solves the mystery. In this story the "Mind" telling the story changes from character to character from time to time...Time and events are clarified then blurred again until I as the reader did not believe any truth or story remained after the waning of the interrupted anti-climatic end. But I am confident I have only brushed the surface of this strangely strange "story". I await the thoughts of other readers!!
"Engrossing story; beautifully narrated"
I've had this book sitting on my bedside table for months; I finally broke down and got the audio book. I'm so glad I did. It's completely and totally engrossing--I was glad it was so long just because I was enjoying the story so much! After the Hillary Mantel books, probably my favorite Booker winner in a long time. The narrator is fabulous--he does accents incredibly well and in all but a few cases pronounces the Maori words accurately, which is a rarity. One quibble: Unless the pronunciation was different in the 19th century, Hokitika is pronounced Hoe-ka-tick-a, not Hah-ka-tee-ka; since that town is mentioned many, many, many times, the mispronunciation is a bit grating, but otherwise, his performance really makes the story come alive.
"Structure = clever, but prose = meh."
There is certainly a lot to like about Eleanor's novel. Its structure is fascinatingly clever and reminds me of the way Nabokov divided ADA, or Ardor. In the Luminaries -- Part 1: 360 pgs, Part 2: 160 pgs, Part 3: 104 pgs, Part 4: 96 pgs, Part 5: 40 pages, Part 6: 26 pages, Part 7: 13 pages, Part 8: 10 pgs, Part 9: 6 pgs, Part 10: 6 pgs, Part 11: 4 pages, Part 12: 4 pages. Or looked at slightly differently:
Compare this to Nabokov's ADA -- Part 1: 326 pgs, Part 2: 120, Part 3: 86, Part 4: 32, Part 5: 25
Or looked at slightly differently:
Catton is following in the brave tradition of Nabokov, Pynchon, et al in constructing an elaboratly structured novel. The plot is interesting, but at times ends up being a little redundant. Do we really need to look at the same event from twelve different angles? OK, I'm not sure if that actually ever happens, but at points in the novel it sure felt like it did.
My problem with Catton is she just don't hold up against the writers I want to compare her to (Pynchon, Dickens, Carey, Nabokov) Carey and Nabokov demolish her prose. Her language while precise didn't twinkle or thrill me. Her plot while interesting didn't pull OR push me. Her characters while interesting didn't move or provoke me. And her setting, while exotic didn't capture or entice me. I want to give her some MFA extra-credit for her ambition, but great literature can't be solely rewarded for its ambition and potential. The Luminaries lacked the heart, soul and transcendence that a book about the stars and lovers almost demands. She belongs on the shelf next to Eggers, just not next to Nabokov.
"An Astrological Wonder"
I have to say that this book was extraordinarily clever. You would probably have to read it more than once to really appreciate the extent of the acumen that was needed to write it. The ability to combine astrology with a unique place and time (1860's Gold Rush in New Zealand) signals a very talented writer. The swirling of characters as they mirror the night sky made for a great tale, and yet there was something lacking. The attention was placed so much on the "mechanics" of it all that it lacked emotion. And, real attachment to any one character was just not possible. In the end, all the players were just living descriptors of the signs and planets, seemingly lacking any soul...which is why any good astrologer knows that a chart is nothing without the influence of spirit.
"Booker Prize Chooses Critics Over Readers"
The book is too self-consciously into its own structure to the detriment of the narrative. In short, it was written for graduate seminars rather than for readers.
Yes. The book inspired me, no longer, to trust the Booker prize as an arbiter of literary merit. For the first time, the prize seems unjustified.
This is the kind of book that people will lie about having read for decades.
This is an outstanding second novel from this young woman. It has all the hallmarks of a Dickensian novel; complex plot, numerous characters, intrigue, a Court case, coincidence, violence and era. The characters are well developed caricatures; Carver is the malevolent villain, Lydia the scheming widower, Anna the innocent girl gone astray and Moody the son stepping out of his father's dark shadow.
I agree with other reviewers that a List of Characters is essential (so I got myself a copy from the front of the printed text - it's not yet on Wiki), but I disagree that the diagrams in the text are at all helpful. The diagrams only make sense if you can read astrological charts (which I cannot) and I suggest are more confusing than enlightening.
I also agree that the tale is too long. It could easily have ended after the trial. Sure, there would have been loose ends, but there were some anyway (what happened to Moody's father, for example). The conceit of the structure (very clever, admittedly) would have suffered, but not the novel. I read an extract of an interview with the author where she postulated that the structure-plot tension was part of an experiment to see if the former could be maintained without expense to the latter. On the evidence of this attempt, I would answer the question, "No".
As for the performance, I thought Mark Meadows did a sterling job. His narrator's voice reminds me of Jack Davenport (from "Coupling"), or perhaps Arthur Dent's voice from the BBC version of "Hitchhiker's Guide", while his Lauderback was Roland Coleman-like (or perhaps more accurately, Don Adams mimicking Coleman). His female characterisations were good, too, but even he could not capture the difficult to credit transition of Anna from innocent to whore and back again.
Overall, the title is well worth the listen to about the end of Part 8 or 9. After that, I don't think you will miss much in the way of plot, except for the frustration of the summary being longer than the chapter that follows.
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