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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Thoroughly Enjoyed This
Originally I was never going to read this book, after all it was the Booker winner and one person had led me to believe that it was about astrology. With that in mind I was rather dumbfounded why it has been one of the top ten bestselling books at my local bookshop for quite some time, and thus decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and actually read it. I did find...
Published 2 months ago by M. Dowden

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315 of 337 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slave to its structure
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...
Published 12 months ago by MisterHobgoblin


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315 of 337 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slave to its structure, 27 Aug 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
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.
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106 of 118 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars My dominant feeling on finishing this book was one of ..., 26 Nov 2013
By 
Kiwi (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars i liked the way it read as a modern day Wilkie ..., 11 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
I was bought this as a retirement gift and you certainly need plenty of time to read it. Not one to read in bite sized chunks! On balance, I think the considerable commitment needed to plow through this book is worthwhile but it is far too long and I found the storyline confusing. I had to search for an online synopsis to sort out several key facts! I gather from reading the reviews that this is sort of the point but I'm afraid I just found it frustrating. i liked the way it read as a modern day Wilkie Collins and will have a go at her first book which sounds interesting. I can see why it won the Booker Prize - very original and clever, but in my opinion far too clever!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Thoroughly Enjoyed This, 16 Jun 2014
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Paperback)
Originally I was never going to read this book, after all it was the Booker winner and one person had led me to believe that it was about astrology. With that in mind I was rather dumbfounded why it has been one of the top ten bestselling books at my local bookshop for quite some time, and thus decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and actually read it. I did find that it does contain astrology but not in the way that you may think; it is in the charts at the beginning of each section, which in a way puts certain constraints on what can be narrated in each part, which does lead to a certain amount of repetition throughout the book.

I was delighted though to find when I started reading this that it is in actual fact a pastiche of `Sensation Fiction'. The `Sensation Novel' was in its day hugely popular and ultimately evolved into thrillers, psychological crime novels, etc, and indeed the date that this novel is set coincidentally happens to be when this type of novel was extremely popular.

When Walter Moody comes to land late one rainy night he finds himself accidentally walking into a room in the hotel where a private meeting between twelve men has been going on. Moody doesn't realise at first, but gradually the others draw him into what they have met about. Not all these men are white like him, because there is one Maori and two Chinese men present as well. As the people at this meeting begin to tell Moody of what has been happening it seems that he is being inundated with crimes. There is a dead man, a missing man, the mysterious appearance and disappearance of gold, blackmail, adultery, deceit and fraud. Obviously a lot has been going on and Moody is now caught up in it all. As the story unfolds we see more clearly what has been going on and who is responsible for what, and why.

I know some have complained on here that there are too many characters, but in fact it is about a dozen or so people that you have to keep an eye on, which when you think about it isn't that much, after all most people on here probably work with at least that many people each day, and know what is going on with them. The story itself is relatively easy to understand, but unless you are into 19th Century literature's popular `Sensation Novels' you may find yourself getting bored in places, or confused as to why certain things happen. Of course on top of that using astrology to in a way plot how this unfolds with regards to the characters is quite novel and one wonders whether Eleanor Catton is just showing off, but it does work.

In all I am now very glad that I have read this as I was caught up in the story pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. This most definitely won't be for everyone, but for quite a few people I would say that they will enjoy this, especially if they love `Sensation Novels'.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like gold-dust, shimmering but insubstantial, 17 April 2014
By 
Steven Brake - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Paperback)
Difficult to understand why "The Luminaries" has received the plaudits that it has. As a novel, it's a hybrid of Victorianism and Modernism, but unfortunately containing the worst excesses of both - the excessive verbiage of the former and the off--putting self-conscious cleverness of the latter.

The subject matter - a gold-rush, opium, the supernatural, revenge, and double-dealing - promises a cracking yarn. Instead, the story seems to meander from incident to incident; the lead villain possesses no real sense of menace; while there's a nice sense of period, there was, to me little sense of place, and I received little to no impression of New Zealand as a fledgling nation; and the silly device of making each chapter half the length of the preceding one, echoing the waning of the moon, means that the novel culminates in a muddled, rushed and unsatisfactory conclusion.

Some reviewers have complained that there were too many characters, but I'd suggest that a principle failing in "The Luminaries" is that there weren't enough. There are lots of names, certainly, but very little sense of individuation between them, even between the principle twelve characters, making nonsense of the conceit that they're representative of signs of the zodiac. The device of having the omniscient narrator tell us directly who the characters are meant to be, rather than making them real people through physical description, or describing their personality by giving them distinctive speech patterns, also grates a bit. Here are two examples (from the paperback edition):

p39: (He could not recall any of those names, and in truth had only remembered Gascoigne's because his former Latin master had been Gascoyen - the familiarity had drawn his eye).

Isn't the concluding part of the sentence implicit from the beginning? Is the narrator really telling the reader anything we wouldn't have realised? Or:

p316: Lowenthal cherished an outsized fear of catastrophe, and was prone to over-analysis in self-contemplation; his reasons for actions were always many, and rationalized in the extreme. We shall pass over these reasons why," etc

Why bother to offer this information only to gloss over it? As recurs repeatedly throughout "The Luminaries", we're given an assertion of a character rather than a depiction of it; and for all the omniscience of the narrator, what this suggests instead is the inadequacy of the author.

I do feel guilty about offering such an unfavourable review of Catton's novel, as I met her last week in Edinburgh at a book signing, where she fielded questions from the audience with great good humour; and, contrary to a huffy comment I read elsewhere (not on Amazon, I think) which claimed she was "big-headed", she seemed really grounded, and, if anything, surprisingly shy and hesitant (I'd also add that, as the youngest ever winner of the Booker, she probably has every right to swagger a bit, if she felt inclined to do so!).

Catton remarked in her talk that she was an avid reader of children's fiction, and that she regarded "The Luminaries" as a children's book in disguise. I'd agree with this. Despite some admittedly wonderful writing, comparisons to Dickens, or even to Collins - although the influence of the latter is manifest - are absurd, and have been made by critics who should know better. I'd suggest that the most accurate comparison would be to Dorothy L. Sayers, and those who love her detective novels, with their similar emphasis on chatter rather than action, will probably also enjoy this.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Whodunit For Astrologers That Won The Booker, 22 Mar 2014
By 
I. D. R. Varley "iandavidrobertvarley" (Derby, Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
I managed to read all of 'The Luminaries'! Can I have a medal please? I learned something of New Zealand and it's history, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. Also, I'm willing to concede that the astrological stuff went over my head, hence my willingness to give it two stars rather than one.

'The Luminaries' is basically a pretentious whodunit written in a mannered and stilted way to make it read as if it was written about a hundred and fifty years ago. Whodunits are usually shallow with mostly flat characterization, this being no exception, so the author has overlaid it with gratuitous astrological nonsense to give it the appearance of having some depth. Unless you're an astrology expert guff like 'Mercury In Sagittarius' won't mean anything to you and Eleanor Catton ain't letting on what it means so you have to look it up. I did look it up along with other esoteric supernatural rubbish about the significance of ecliptics and true nodes that appears in the book's titles and I could see how some of it related vaguely to the story. However, apart from a brief mention of there not being a full moon in one particular February in 1866, it's hard to see how relevant astrology is to the story. None of the characters are astrologers. It does provide the author with a way of constructing the story in a modern, aesthetically pleasing but nevertheless fractured way but personally I'd rather read a good story told messily than a mediocre story told elegantly. 'The Luminaries' is the latter. The only interesting and, to my mind, properly formed characters are Anna and Lydia. All the men are two dimensional. Much has been made of the author's youth. I think her youth really shows in a bad way. I think she's a very immature writer.

Interestingly, the gold paint on the cover wore off while I was reading it so now it says 'The Minaries, Eanor Catton'! Appropriate for a story about a gold rush, I guess.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's cleverness doesn't overcome its length., 14 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
Ostensibly this is a sort of costume drama whodunnit - a faux-Victorian mystery about a dead hermit, a missing-presumed-dead prospector, a loveable prostitute and a villainous ship's captain set during the New Zealand goldrush.

But really, it's a partly successful exercise in literary style. In this respect it's fairly clever - the mechanism by which the chapter lengths wane, the repeated retelling and reinterpretation of the same stories to construct different narratives from them, the elaborate astrological framework.

It's not enough to make a really successful novel though. The story is a fairly thin bit of melodrama, there is a large cast of characters, each of them a cardboard cut-out, the prose is deliberately mock-Victorian which, while relevant to the conceit, I found intermittently annoying and the book is very long. It's not that long because there is a lot of content, but as an artefact of the literary trickery that is going on. This is particularly apparent in the very long (about half the book) first chapter.

Persevering with it does lead to some reward, and it is clearly a skillful piece of work, but I'm not sure it repays the effort it requires.
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58 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton, 21 Aug 2013
By 
RachelWalker "RachelW" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
It's a while since I've read such a lengthy book with such a labyrinthine plot. I confess, at times I was confused and gave up trying to hold all the pieces together in my head and just enjoyed the story as it unfolded, which is nevertheless a rich enjoyment, here. Catton does several things incredibly well in this novel: moving her plot along; narrative structure; dialogue; and reader engagement. The plotting is rather obviously the standout achievement (even if at times I let it get away from me), however the intricate way the plot is constructed around the 12 + characters, each of whom has their own part to play and own history to bring, which intermingles with the influence of the characters, is brilliant. I wasn't so sure, though, about the zodiacal conceit. Not really sure what exactly that adds, or whether it was just intended as frill. I must also admit to feeling that it ends rather more with w whimper than a bang, as several events we've already been told about earlier on in the book, are narrated again first-hand, as it were.

However, overall this is a very impressive novel and I would certainly recommend it. It's rare to come across a writer nowadays who attempts something like this, a big doorstop of a book with a Wilkie-Collins-esque maze of a plot.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Size ain't everything!, 19 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
I LOVE reading and I love reading a challenging, complex novel - this is neither ! It is tedious, dull and never ending , The Booker prize winners have often been criticised for being pompous and highly over rated , I have read many and never felt that to be true until reading The Luminaries! What angers me most about this book is that the story is so simple - it just does not justify over 800 pages.And " simple" can be good but in this case its just deadly dull. The characters are uninteresting and the plot just drifts about getting nowhere. Also each chapter has a heading which is suppose to have some significance to the Zodiac and this is where the pretentiousness really comes in. Sadly it's not even a book to hate - its too boring for that. I refused to give up so read to the very last page - don't know about 50 Shades Of Grey this is 800 Pages Of White !!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Despite being an avid reader and love historical novels, 11 Aug 2014
By 
R. A. Mckeown - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
Am really struggling with this book. Despite being an avid reader and love historical novels, I have forced myself to keep going to halfway through and keep being told it gets better, but if it hasn't gripped me by now, which it should, have in my opinion. Have abandoned it again in favour of something more exciting. The characters are not clearly defined and I don't care about any of them.
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The Luminaries
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Hardcover - 1 Aug 2013)
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