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The Luminaries is a tale of lies and deceit, fraud and vengeance, set amongst the goldfields of Western New Zealand in the 1860s. It was a time when men had dreams of getting rich very quickly based as much on luck as on hard work. But just as some are content to rely on the odds, others are willing to change the odds in their favour by nefarious means.

So when Walter Moody, a recent Scottish émigré, accidentally gatecrashes a clandestine meeting of twelve local businessmen, he is drawn into their various shady dealings. There is gold lost and found; a missing man; a dead drunk; a suicidal prostitute and a very sinister, scar-faced sea captain. There are tensions between the white settlers and the Chinese camp. Oh, and there is a token Maori. The writing, for the most part, is really good. The setting is conveyed well and the reader feels fully transported through space and time into a complex and authentic world.

But, and it's a big But, the involvement of so many players makes the novel far too complicated and grinds the pace down to a glacial speed. Every player has to have a relationship with each of the other players, resulting in many events being played out multiple times from multiple perspectives. Moreover, the use of reportage to create a non-linear time structure heightens the feeling of repetition. When it seems that the novel has finally moved on, it gets brought back again and again and again. The twelve main characters are supposed to represent different signs of the zodiac and perhaps those who like astrology would recognise their traits and interactions. But for the lay reader, the characters seem rather indistinguishable and, frankly, not much more than a personification of their job. The novel may be long (830ish pages) but is so full of plotting that there is little real space for characterisation. This can result in people forming alliances or breaking pacts for no obvious reason. We find out what people do, but have little insight into why they do them. OK, some of the main players (apparently the planetary and terra firma characters) have some slight backstory, but the others (the stellar ones) simply are as they are.

The pace does pick up eventually - after about two thirds of the novel - but what is not apparent from the page count is that this is actually the denouement. The many subsequent sections seem to be some kind of zodiacal obligation telling the reader nothing new and presenting historical events that had already been inferred. Moreover, as the sections wend their way to an end, the brief introductions to the chapters (as one finds in Victorian novels) grow longer and start to carry information in their own right, leaving brief the body of the section to carry only snippets of mercurial dialogue. This really is not a satisfactory way to end a plot-driven novel of this length.

I am sure there is a good story buried somewhere in The Luminaries. But just like the thin person struggling to emerge from every fat person, sometimes dieting in not enough and bariatric surgery is needed.
 
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I'm hoping that I have a better experience of the book than you did Mr.HG as I just bought it.  Just on the first couple of pages and Walter Moody has just arrived at the club.  Will let you know.   :hmm:

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Haven't got past Balfour trying to tell his story to Walter Moody yet although was watching telly for a while.  It's going to take a while if each of the other eleven men has to tell his story.  How on earth do you manage to read and review so many books, you must be a speed reader.  I wonder how much of the plot I'll miss if I scan the odd page here and there!  Will try to be disciplined and read it word for word.  :)

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Others read far more than me. But, being candid, I have an hour's journey on the train to and from work, I can take about an hour at lunch to read and I can steal minutes at break times. I might or might not be able to get half an hour in when I go to bed. That, it must be said, is when I try to maximise my reading time. Outside the Bookerthon I don't take it to such extremes. Kindles tell me my reading speed, and I can read about 500 reference numbers an hour. That means a book like Harvest (2800 reference numbers) will take me about 6 hours; a book like Five Star Billionaire (about 6000 reference numbers) will take me about 12 hours (four days) and something mega like The Luminaries (12000 reference numbers) will be about eight days. Give or take. Outside the Bookerthon I tend to do 2 hours a day on weekdays only. That would be 5000 reference numbers.

 

Don't you love Kindles?

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Hi Mr. HG - love the math but was horrified when I saw that The Luminaries was 12000 reference numbers.  Heaven help me, I already am immersed in Mr. Balfour's tale which may last for days!  And I do love the Kindle, can't imagine what size the book would be if I had ordered the paper book.  :yikes:

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I happened to spot The Luminaries in Waterstones this morning - and yes, it's big!

 

I can imagine that it's big - the one man so far who is relating some of his experiences to a character called Walter Moody has been talking for many, many Kindle pages, and it's a conversation he had with another man.  I'd go so far as to say it's on the verge of being tedious.  Will probably take it in small steps at a time.  :)

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Oh, I shouldn't have read the thread. I am less hopeful of liking it now ...

 

You may find it to your liking MM - everyone is different - I'm kind of impatient so I need something to happen quite quickly or I get a bit bored.  :(

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The Luminaries broke two records when it was given the Man Booker prize last year: the longest novel, and the youngest writer, to win the prize.

To my mind, it’s one of the most rambling and most poorly constructed novels to have won, and Eleanor Catton is, I’m sorry to have to say, rather out of her depth.

The whole zodiac conceit, for one thing, is gratuitous and decidedly unconvincing. The idea is that twelve “stellar” characters are each associated with an astrological sign, while seven more important characters are presented (in the basically unhelpful “character chart” at the beginning of the novel – the map is even more unhelpful by the way) as “planetary”. Then there is a “terra firma” character who, we are informed before the novel starts, is “deceased”.

No clear justifications are given for these associations – but the way the book has been praised by sundry reviewers creates the impression that the reader is somehow not clever enough if he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Whereas, as far as I can see, it is Eleanor Catton trying to be too clever for her own good (and certainly for this particular reader’s patience).

Even without the astrological dimension, the book is poorly put together. The unwitting intrusion of one character, Walter Moody, at the start, on what is presented as a top secret meeting of the twelve “stellar” characters, creates the impression that the reader will be guided by Moody’s impressions, discoveries and interpretations as the novel develops. But then the different juxtaposed narratives become increasingly confused, and by the end Moody has disappeared altogether, without ever having become a convincing character in any way. Catton also tries, but again fails as a result of being inconsistent, to use an omniscient “we” (also definitively abandoned without any warning…)

As for the writing… Catton is sometimes able to evoke the 19th-century New Zealand setting in a convincing away. But she is at least equally capable of horrific linguistic clangers:

“It was therefore with a very well-concealed ignorance that Moody played interlocutor to Gascoigne, and Clinch…” (Play interlocutor?) She uses the non-existent “uncourteous” (but also the correct form “discourteous”, later on). And then right at the end of the acknowledgements, she reserves a special word for, presumably, her partner: “Thank you – I to Thou”. There may of course be a private allusion in that “Thou” (capital letter?) instead of “thee”; but it seems more likely that Catton has never studied a line of Shakespeare and does not know the difference between the two forms. And, in that case, it was rather a perilous exercise to attempt an 830-page pastiche of a 19th-century novel.

I regret the time and effort (and money) I expended on The Luminaries. If you start having misgivings by the time you get to page 50, take my advice: cut your losses. There are far better novels out there. 

Edited by jfp

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I have The Luminaries on audio! All of your comments are putting me off, I tried listening a while ago and didn't get very far, I thought it was because I needed to concentrate on my driving, now I'm not so sure.

It's 29 hours plus, maybe I'll look for another.

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@ Cassie: I'm a conscientious reader and, anticipating the complexities of The Luminaries, I read it pencil in hand, making dutiful notes in the margin.

And I still got lost... With an audio-book version I would imagine you'd be up shit-creek pretty much immediately... 29 hours plus? Then probably after about twenty minutes...

I'm not thinking of handing The Luminaries on, let alone to a friend. It's going in the bin. Today it was transferred from my desk to the to-be-binned-when-I-get-round-to-it shelf in a cupboard, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Turgid" is the best one-word summary.

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@ Cassie: I'm a conscientious reader and, anticipating the complexities of The Luminaries, I read it pencil in hand, making dutiful notes in the margin.

And I still got lost... With an audio-book version I would imagine you'd be up shit-creek pretty much immediately... 29 hours plus? Then probably after about twenty minutes...

I'm not thinking of handing The Luminaries on, let alone to a friend. It's going in the bin. Today it was transferred from my desk to the to-be-binned-when-I-get-round-to-it shelf in a cupboard, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Turgid" is the best one-word summary.

 

I have read many Booker books? But this one worried me.

Young female complex and long seemed to be the criteria they picked this novel.

Totally agree with most of your review cause I nearly got to 500 pages and gave up.Turgid is harsh :)

Edited by Clavain

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Started this for a local group read.  I'm now considering reading something other.  It reminds me of a Dickens book by the italic notes at the beginning for the chapters and by the detailed descriptions.  Only 60 pages in and it still seems reasonable, but .....

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Don't know where my post went on this thread but I gave up on The Luminaries quite early on and there it sits in my Kindle archives.

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This is my first time on this site. I joined after finishing The Luminaries and came here to have a discussion of the book, fully expecting the forum to be full of people praising the novel. Although I have been pleasantly surprised that others feel, as I do, that this should definitely not have taken the Booker Prize last year (personally I felt that The Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin was a much stronger candidate), I am also disheartened by how much of a beating the author and novel are taking, as I did enjoy the book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a complex, well thought out and well written novel.

 

The most prominent reason that I find this a great book is the ambiguity of the storyline. By the end there are still numerous large plotlines that have not been explicitly explained, and are, instead, left up to the readers to figure out or argue over. To me this is a very difficult art to master, giving enough information that the reader is not left feeling annoyed by the lack of information, but not enough to completely seal the ending. Questions that remain unanswered are things like how and when did Crosbie die? How did Carver die? How did the gold get from the ground into Crosbie’s house? Why did Devlin completely change his mind in court about covering up for Anna when she forged Emery’s signature? What actually occurred between Carver and Anna in relation to the miscarriage?  These open ended questions are, in my mind, meant to mimic the effects that planetary movements have on us all. To add to this theory I also believe the large amount of coincidences that at times drive the storyline, are also meant to be a part of this effect. Finally the Astral Twins – Anna and Emery, are a clear indication of the relevance of astrology in the book.

On the subject of the astral twins and the ambiguity throughout the book, there are numerous subtleties that run throughout, that on first reading may not be apparent. I would definitely like to hear others theory on their relationship, mine is as follows.  Anna takes the laudanum overdose, which effects Emery, leading him to fall into the shipping container, unconscious (in the last chapter Anna and Emery both stumble and fall at the same time). Unnoticed he is nailed in and taken on board the Godspeed. Later Anna shoots herself, but the bullet is transferred to Emery, who is seen spurting blood in a “ghostly” manner by Moody. The ship wrecks and Emery washes ashore, but is sustained by Anna who becomes thin and weak despite eating normally because she was sustaining him, Emery taking her opium habit from her (he becomes addicted at the time that she quits – she states that she took a lot of opium yet felt no effects of it when Gascoigne is interrogating her in her hotel room) and the way that she is able to sign his name even though she is illiterate. I believe that there are many more subtleties throughout the book that I probably missed out on.

The book was very long and complex, jumping back and forth in time. To me the complexity of the storyline is nothing short of genius, and Eleanor Catton must have spent many hours deliberating and perfecting the timeline. Having to keep track of 13 main characters, plus other sub characters, their personalities, place within the story, and relationship to others was, at times, very demanding on the reader, never mind being the person in charge of the characters!. These complexities really added to the excitement and rush at the pinnacle of the story, which I felt was in the last 50 pages. The chapters and sections were shorter, dialogue was reduced to a minimum, giving the effect of everything moving at a quick pace, coming to a climax. By the last page I can only describe my feelings as initially confused and annoyed, but upon contemplation of the book, largely satisfied and amazed. It will leave your head spinning trying to figure out the details and the timeline, but it is definitely worth it. This is definitely an ending that has to be contemplated due to the richness of detail and the deliberately missing information.

 

All that being said, there are numerous aspects of the book that did diminish my enjoyment of it. I feel it would have benefited from an explanation of the astral projections that were included, even if just a very small explanation that would help clarify their use in the context of the story. I think that a lot of the subtleties of the novel were lost on me and anyone who does not have knowledge of astrology. 

I felt that Eleanor did a good job of making the characters distinguishable from each other, but it would have definitely helped if the character overview at the beginning of the novel had been more in depth. I referenced it a number of times at the beginning of the novel to try and jog my memory about which character was which, but this was frequently no help as the description was less than 10 words for each character, if that. 

 

I would definitely recommend this novel, but would suggest that if you are planning on reading it, keep a pen and paper handy to note down characters and their place in the story, and relations to others and prepare yourself for a complex read if you want to have the fullest experience of the novel. 

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Hello and welcome Maverick - nominations for the next Book Group Online read are currently being requested. I believe the subject this time is 'humour' so if you have a suggestion you would like to submit go to the Nominations thread. I'm glad that you made it through the The Luminaries - I threw in the towel quite early on, am an impatient reader I think. Hope you join in on the threads that interest you.:)

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@ Cassie: I'm a conscientious reader and, anticipating the complexities of The Luminaries, I read it pencil in hand, making dutiful notes in the margin.

And I still got lost... With an audio-book version I would imagine you'd be up shit-creek pretty much immediately... 29 hours plus? Then probably after about twenty minutes...

I'm not thinking of handing The Luminaries on, let alone to a friend. It's going in the bin. Today it was transferred from my desk to the to-be-binned-when-I-get-round-to-it shelf in a cupboard, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Turgid" is the best one-word summary.

So sorry jfp, I haven't been logging in much recently and only just saw your post. I did something I have never resorted to before and I returned the book to Audible and exchanged it for another book. :)

 

All that being said, there are numerous aspects of the book that did diminish my enjoyment of it. I feel it would have benefited from an explanation of the astral projections that were included, even if just a very small explanation that would help clarify their use in the context of the story. I think that a lot of the subtleties of the novel were lost on me and anyone who does not have knowledge of astrology. 

Hi maverickf1, another welcome from me.

 

I'm glad you mentioned that there was an astrological element to the story. I was unaware of this as didn't have a hard copy to flick through. I'm afraid I would have run a mile and never downloaded it had I known! Looks like for my taste I made the right choice. :yikes:

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