8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2015
Brilliantly researched, The Luminaries held my attention (and closely too) for about 700 of its 830 pages. After that the book subsides into a frenetic series of chapters desperate to explain the excessively intricate plot but without any sort of proper resolution. Do the baddies (of pantomime proportions - scar on cheek for the man, leader-astray of virgins for the woman) get their comeuppance? Does the innocent observer Mr Moody find his fortune? We are never told. Apart from the ones that end up dead we aren't told how the characters come out of this complex tale.
Then there's the astrology. Astrological charts preface the sections and random-seeming titles head the chapters. What does Catton mean by this additional complication that she's not telling us? For me, who didn't 'get it' and who finds astrology as tedious as the spiritualism that makes a brief appearance in the book, this stuff was just annoying.
As the chapters get shorter, their introductory summaries (In which so-and-so happens) get longer until they burst out of their function and summarise a story which isn't told in the text. So at the end the book becomes shorthand as if Catton has got bored with the exercise and has suddenly realised how many pages she's racked up and wants to go down the pub.
The end of a novel is important - it's the final and most powerful impression the reader is left with. This is a book that really ducks the whole idea of an ending.
The book won the Booker without being the best novel of the year, not even the best on the short list and that's saying something.
Summary: I really enjoyed the build up but the conclusion was disappointing, no reward for wading though all those pages. Four stars for the bulk, one for the end, so three stars.
375 of 399 people found the following review helpful
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 the body of the section to carry only snippets of mercurial dialogue. This was necessary because each section had to be exactly half the length of the previous one (count the words if you don't believe me). 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.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
I had been greatly looking forward to reading this, but my experience with the book was somewhat akin to that of a swimmer who plunges eagerly into a river, but finds the opposite bank a lot further away, and the river a lot deeper, than first appeared... and the whole idea of making the crossing comes to lose its appeal.
It's not that it's a bad book. It's a beautifully-written pseudo-Victorian mystery, with a strong sense of time and place. Eleanor Catton's "The Rehearsal" was a very promising debut, flawed by over-complexity and over-ambitiousness. The problems of that book, far from being resolved, have been greatly compounded in "The Luminaries." It's simply too long (some 850 pages), too complex and too dull for pleasurable reading. Pseudo-Victorian fiction is a morass for inexperienced writers, tending to the production of much scribbling and damn'd thick, square books -- whereas the Victorians themselves could often be very concise.
Praised to the skies by critics, garlanded with prizes, this is a book which most ordinary readers will struggle with, and the reviews here show that. There are too many characters to remember, too many conversations to follow, too many mysteries to unfold. In a novel that should have been highly original, the reader is left with an impression of endless repetition, of scenes that sprawl and loll, of a prolixity of characters too much alike to one another to inspire interest. Like many other reviewers, I was numbed by boredom, despite the best will in the world.
The book could have worked very well at half the length or less, and with half the characters or less. A great pity. But Eleanor Catton is a very young author who is still learning her craft, and I am confident that her prodigious talent will produce a far better and more enjoyable book very soon.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2014
I have an impression that by the end the author got tired of her novel, numerous characters and the need to tie up multiple story lines. Been tired, she didn't find it in herself to even properly complete the novel. She struggled for a bit and then simply dropped it letting the readers sort out lose ends and obvious contradictions. Ever diminishing chapters at the end with longish preambles look like a plan of a novel rather than the actual novel. I was mystified by the author's statement that "Carver found the bonanza at Wells' home", when the whole plot up until that chapter at the very end had been based on Carver not finding it! Or perhaps I was too tired to even look for the explanation. The Booker prize committee's logic, however, - that's a real mystery.
128 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2013
My dominant feeling on finishing this book was one of self-congratulation in actually having made it to the end. I have joined the elite band of readers who have done so, but I have not made it to the super-elite group who not only finished it, but understood it (but then I wonder if there are many at all in this category).
Normally, I would give Booker-prizewinners a wide berth, fearing over-intellectualism and incomprehensible story lines, but here was one with a crime/mystery theme, and by a New Zealand author, and I'm a NZer myself so, here we go...
For the first 150 pages, I thought my Booker prejudices were validated: hard going, put-downable, especially when I considered the hundreds of pages still to come. But I stuck with it and, very gradually, I found myself getting drawn in, with a mounting curiosity as to where it was going (as one might hope with a mystery). Things were looking up! (aided, I should say, means of one of the characters providing a 2-3 page summary of the story so far at the end of Part I, some 350 pages in - very helpful, this, you can look forward to it). And so on to the full 827 pages, but, after all that, to a damp-squibbish ending. Was that it? - after all that?
Notwithstanding the critics' accolades, I dare to say I can't understand how this story can be highly rated. The book is far, far, too long, moving at a glacial pace; the story is stupifyingly complex, propped up with far too many coincidental events and long-shot chance happenings; then there's the sleight-of-hand techniques such as two characters having the same name (or was it one character having two names? - can't remember, it's gone); and don't get me started on the resolution of the "missing bullet" saga - I'll keep this from you. Is this really award-winning stuff?
For me, the star of the book is the town of Hokitika and, in this aspect, I am fulsome in my praise for Catton's description of the era of the 19th-century gold rush in NZ's South Island, particularly on the West Coast; it's highly informative and enjoyable in that respect. It's a pity it's taken such a cumbersome vehicle to convey this.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2014
Don't whatever you do be tempted to read this on kindle. The whole experience felt like trying to chew through a piece of carpet. Very tough going. So much hype about a novel that as far as I can tell is all about its "clever" construction leaving the reader thoroughly dissatisfied with the content. Since the chapters follow the phases of the moon on a kindle this just compounds the feeling that the reader is getting nowhere fast as the percentage marker just does not seem to move regardless of the number of pages that have been waded through. Even by the end as the chapters become shorter there is no great feeling of being any nearer to making sense of what is actually quite a dull story line. Repetition is just tedious as the same scenario is told through so many different characters who all supposedly have the personality traits associated with their star sign. Emperor's new clothes if you ask me. My entire Book Group could not slate it enough!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2015
I was a bit scared of buying this book, not because of its length (I've gone through LOTR without major problems) but by some of the reviews. In any case I decided to go for it because I like a challenge and also because I am interested in New Zealand and the historical aspect of it all.
Now, in order to get past the first half you need to be very patient. A lot of information is put before you regarding events leading to this secret council in which the main protagonist, a Scottish man called Walter Moody, stumbles into. Much of what is told here are little pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle that eventually fits together later on. After you've passed this stage then it starts to move very fast to a resolution at around the 3/4 mark in the book. I think the main climax is at this very point when Moody's powers and all that has transpired comes together into a rather satisfactory resolution. I was actually smiling at this point and saying 'oooo, he's good' at Moody for his rather fantastic performance and yet saddened by him walking off into the sunset with the credits rolling. (At this point, I was thinking of television adaptations: James McAvoy as Moody, Andy Serkis as Craver, etc, but I'm getting ahead of myself).
Here comes the rather curious part: that's not the end of it, oh no. Catto continues for yet the last quarter of the book basically going over backstory as to what happened the year before to show us the hinted at events leading up to the conclusion. This is what got up people's noses in the reviews. There are two explanations for why she might have done this: first, Catto is forcing herself to place the story in a rigid sequence and form that she creates for herself, and second, she wants to stick to a style so that each succeeding chapter is half the size of the previous. Although most (not all) questions and loose ends are answered in the last quarter of the book, it leads to a very anti-climactic feeling towards the end. It would, I think, have been better if these little backstories were interwoven carefully in the previous chapters prior to the courtroom scenes so that the book finishes exactly at the convention ending and at the end of the book. Or maybe she should have done a Tolkien style appendix which would have allowed her to put everything neatly into context in a readable format? Either way, the way Catto concluded this book is not very satisfactory to say the least. (Another annoying thing was the censorship of minor curses e.g. 'd------mned' which was totally unnecessary and got on my nerves after a while.)
So, I do still recommend this book as I think it is brilliantly written. However, it is not concluded well, so I am knocking one star off for that. I would advise reading up to the natural conclusion then skipping the rest, filing it under 'mysteries.'
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2015
I managed to finish this book and I enjoyed it up to a point. It was however very complicated and I found myself re reading many parts to make sure I had grasped what was going on. Found the ending very disappointing.......the author just seemed to wind up as quickly as possible what had been a very long and drawn out plot. Ended up thinking ' oh that's it then is it?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This ambitious novel of over 800 pages is set in the gold rush of New Zealand in the 1860s. The complex plot involves stolen goods, stolen identities, greed, love, murder and retribution. The plotting is so intricate and linked to the signs of the zodiac and the astrological year – even to the extent of the chapters becoming shorter with the days…..
It starts with a meeting of twelve men (the twelve months of the year?) and they are joined by another man, Moody (thirteen lunar months?) I readily confess to not making head nor tail of the various charts and soon gave up trying to interpret them. The many press reviews of the book refer to it being “dazzling”, “irresistible” and “breathtaking”. I agree that the writing is good but the plotting is so complex it is hard to grasp and keep a track of. I only finished this book yesterday and already I would have a problem trying to explain the plot to someone. Another problem (for me) was that the characters were all a bit of a blur and I found it hard to differentiate between them. I had to keep reminding myself which one was Ah Souk and which Quee Long.
I am not averse to lengthy novels and have happily read my way through War and Peace, Middlemarch and The Goldfinch but I found The Luminaries a real slog.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2014
I didn't dislike the book entirely...it started off as a slow read and I trudged on through hoping it would pick up... It did but only by virtue of the chapters getting shorter. It piqued my intrigue but the climax was not as all consuming and gripping, and I felt left with a whole number of unanswered questions. A bit of a disappointing read.