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16 of 19 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 3 months ago by M. Dowden

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320 of 342 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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320 of 342 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a great book, 2 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
I really couldn't get I to this at all. My rating is 1.5 stars but I couldn't leave a half score here.

The writer seems to miss some of the point of novel writing to me, which is to let the reader add their mark on the novel: To give just enough information about a character for the reader to then use their own experience to work out what the character is like; To describe a situation and let the reader work out what the character is like from their responses. Instead, the author here spelt out everything in fine detail, all the thought processes and traits of each person. They also did this at the expense of some description of the setting which I think would have been nicer. The author is obviously an intelligent person, but to be so analytical in a book makes it lose some of the magic for me. It also increases the quantity of text, and makes it quite hard to follow what is a pretty intricate and complicated plot.

It took me 5 months to read this, I was determined to finish but a couple of times I have to pause to read something else. It really was a struggle, and when I finally did finish it, I didn't find the conclusion gave me anything really. The second half of the book clarified the first, and then that was it.
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110 of 122 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, 12 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
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!
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2 of 2 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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16 of 19 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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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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far more enjoyable than its daunting reputation might suggest, 31 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Luminaries (Kindle Edition)
I approached this book with some degree of trepidation. Several reviews from hardened literary critics implied that while its technical merits made it worthy of its Booker Prize win, actually reading it was a bit of a hard slog, thanks to its length and its complex structure. It sat on my Kindle for several months, until, confronted with the prospect of a 27 hour plane journey, I decided that it was now or never.

From the first page, I was astonished by how much I enjoyed it, not in an cold, "appreciating great literature" sort of way, but simply in the sense of getting wrapped up in the plot, speculating about the mysteries and feeling strong emotions towards the characters. It was beautifully written, apeing a late Victorian style perfectly, but the story drew me in and kept me turning the pages as if it were the most salacious, trashy thriller. The plot is complex, featuring at least twenty fairly major characters, but while it requires a fair degree of concentration to keep track of everyone's comings and goings, I never felt lost or overburdened with detail, just fully immersed in a well-developed world.

It's a tricky tale to summarise, but basically, on the same night in a nineteenth-century goldmining town in New Zealand, a hermit dies alone, only for both a stash of gold and a long-lost wife to appear; a prostitute collapses from an apparent opium overdose and is arrested, and the richest man in town disappears. There are mysteries underlying all three of these events (and several others) and endless connections between these three characters and the rest of the sprawling cast. With so many characters, it's perhaps inevitable that some of them were more interesting and memorable than others, and that some of the supporting cast blurred into one slightly. But the best characters were very well done with some interesting nuances - and less nuanced, but just as enjoyable, was a wonderfully villainous sea captain.

I didn't know much more about the plot than the book's setting, and on paper, it wasn't a period or location that really appeared to me. However, the author really brings the town of Hotika to life and really piqued my interest in a piece of history I had no prior knowledge of. While the plot is mostly rooted in the gritty realism of life in a frontier town, there is also a slight touch of the paranormal, which I suspect some people will dislike, but which I quite enjoyed.

I'd heard that this book was heavily based around astronomy, another factor that seems to have daunted some critics and put off some readers. If you have no interest in the subject, then don't worry. The plot and the prose are perfectly enjoyable without this knowledge, and although the strange chapter titles and shortening chapters make you aware that something strange is going on, for the most part, it doesn't get in the way of the story, just leaves you with a vague sense that the author has probably pulled off something quite clever. I'm by no means an expert, but I had some interest in astronomy in my teens, and had just enough remembered knowledge to get something extra from the book. I'm sure that anyone who is genuinely knowledgable about the subject would be fascinated by the way it is handled. As far as I could tell, the idea is that some of the characters represent signs of the zodiac (I had fun guessing who was which, until I noticed there was actually a chart - woops) and some other represent the planets. Mostly, the planetary ones are the ones doing things and moving the plot along, while the stellar ones are caught in the fall out of their actions. I think the latter were acting according to the general attributes of their star sign, and also been affected by the position of the actual planets and stars on any given day. I suspect that a greater knowledge of astronomy would help to explain what sometimes feels like odd behaviour and U-turns on the part of certain characters, as well as some of the stranger coincidences and plot twists. To reiterate though, all this underlying cleverness doesn't get in the way of the story and it isn't necessary to even vaguely understand it in order to follow the plot.

The other noteworthy thing about this book is the structure. It's in twelve parts (presumably another reference to the signs of the zodiac). The first part has twelve chapters, the next eleven, and so on, until part twelve only has one chapter. At the same time, the chapters get notably shorter as the book goes on (part 1 finished 48% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle, part twelve is one page long) and though I didn't bother to count, I'm reliably informed that each is half the length of its predecessor. I didn't feel that this structure added much, but like the astronomy references, neither, for the most part, did it get in the way of the reading experience. My only complaint is that the book reaches its climax at the end of Part Five of twelve- (although to be fair, that is 90% of the way through the book). At that point, most of the mysteries are revealed and loose ends tied up. The following sections then go back in time to fill in some of the gaps. To some extent, this was interesting, but a lot of it felt like rehashing old ground or needlessly spelling out things that had been clearly implied beforehand. I was hoping that these flashbacks would put a new spin on events or characters, but with the exception of the interesting sections explaining how Anna (the prostitute mentioned above) came to be in her current situation, they felt extremely redundant and repetitive, which slightly dulled my love for the book. It felt like the one time the author really put structure over storytelling.

This book is undoubtedly long and clearly very cleverly written. But I'd emphasise once more that it's far more enjoyable, far more of a page-turner and a far easier read than either its length or its reputation would suggest. Marvel at its structure and style, puzzle out its astronomical mysteries or simply enjoy a riveting historical drama - whatever level you choose to read it on, I'd highly recommend this book.
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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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