231 of 248 people found the following review helpful
A slave to its structure,
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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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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Oct 2013 09:44:24 BDT
thank you - this review was so helpful - I'm checking your other reviews for what to read next.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2013 17:04:58 BDT
Paul Chalmers says:
thanks for this - I heard about it on the radio this morning and read an extract, but was surprised to find the style very wordy and laboured, doing things which normally an editor would slate any author for doing. It is such a subjective business - some authors get away with it, and others don't. It seemed a little over-written from the extract I read, and I agree that a book of that length needs to be edited down.
Posted on 17 Oct 2013 15:07:35 BDT
James S. Bache says:
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Oct 2013 21:33:46 BDT
The reason I read reviews is that there are so many books out there to choose from that I couldn't possibly read them all. And taking books at random seems pretty silly too. Instead, I like to find out a bit more about what a book is about, how it is written, and why other people have enjoyed or not enjoyed it. When I write reviews, I don't want to tell people whether or not they *should* enjoy it, but I try to tell people *why* I did or didn't. They can read my opinions, see whether or not my reasons sound like the things that matter to them or not, and use it as a guide alongside other reviews when deciding whether to read a book.
Posted on 18 Oct 2013 17:18:00 BDT
J. Potter says:
Excellent review. Will probably check out the book when the kindle's at a more reasonable price. It is good to have insight. Many thanks.
In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2013 10:24:00 GMT
Thank you for a very thorough review of the book. As I haven't read any of your reviews prior to this, I hope to agree with you. I find it's helpful and expedient to read reviews from other readers with the same 'taste' in authors as it saves time, money and disappointment! Keep it up ;)
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