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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
673
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 12 May 2017
Having recently returned from Hokitika New Zealand where this book is mainly set ,I was looking forward to reading it ,I wasn't disappointed. It's long and the plot is complicated ,but my advice is stick with it ,it's well worth it. Perhaps not the best choice for those with a short attention span as you need to concentrate on the characters and how they fit into the story, but for those who like a good story intelligently written then give this a try .
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on 6 May 2017
Very long and intricate. Intelligently written with interwoven plots set in mid 1800 gold digging period with unusual characters - haven't finished it yet - I keep thinking I'll give up on it as some of it is overly detailed but then something about it compels me to carry on. Beautifully written if not a bit long winded. Not sure how it will conclude and whether it will be a satisfactory finale.
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on 26 April 2017
Challenging read, well worth the effort. I intend to read it again.
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on 14 November 2014
excellent so far
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on 25 October 2016
Very tedious after the first chapter. I thought I was going to enjoy this so took it on holiday, but after a promising start it disintegrated into a novel dominated by its structure to a painful degree.I guess it's all very clever but I just couldn't finish it.
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on 21 January 2017
The cover of The Luminaries is beautiful. Both the blue paperback and the white hardback version which is what initially attracted me to the book because I’m a bit crazy about anything spacey.

The Luminaries is huge. I can’t lie to you, it’s the first thing you notice. Now, I haven’t held a bible since I was in primary school but I’m pretty sure this is bigger. The size is intimidating and it did actually put me off reading it because I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere through the book despite reading it for hours. It is probably the book’s biggest downfall because (to be honest) it could have been condensed. The plot was incredibly intricate and a lot happened but there was also a lot of description so it probably could have been shortened.

Plot

The Luminaries is set in New Zealand at the time of the gold rush and begins with one man’s journey until he stumbles across a group of men who are gathered for a reason and each one has his own story to tell which crosses the path of another man until all the men have told all of their stories and we piece together the happenings of a mystery which we are unsure is a murder or a disappearance or an act of fraud or all of the above.

Literary

The narrative of The Luminaries was definitely different and good for those with short attention spans since it chops and changes. That being said, from a literary point of view, there was an opportunity for twelve or more very distinctive voices of these characters and looking back on it now, I don’t think there was a single distinctive voice. There were definitely noticeable characteristics– I especially think the atmosphere changed dramatically for the Chinese men and Te Rau but I would have liked to have seen more.

Further, the narrative changes so often that you don’t really get attached to any single character which is unusual for a fiction novel. I usually have someone to root for. There was a union to root for nearer the end of The Luminaries but, in my opinion, no character captivated me. It isn’t a drawback because the book is about plot rather than characters and everyone seems to be a vehicle to more information rather than well-established and distinctive figures.

Political Comment

I have a small distaste for female writers that don’t write female characters. This book is very obviously male (and anyone female– of which there are only really three, is underwhelming or scheming). I know the setting (19th Century New Zealand) has a part to play because no women are digging, they’re simply marrying, whoring or caring , but I do wish we had a strong and capable woman in the book. One of the twelve counsel members could very easily have been a woman but Eleanor Catton missed a trick by not writing one in The Luminaries.

Verdict

The plot is fast-paced and beautifully described, though sometimes with unnecessary detail that can bog the reader down and distract them from the plot and, since the plot, happenings, timings and names are so important to understand in order to follow the detective style unfolding, was probably a risky move.

One of the smartest things about The Luminaries (and there are many) is the astrological themes throughout. I had the distinct sense that each of the characters represented a star sign and the book took notice of the phases of the moon and the positioning of the planets which I believe (though I don’t know enough about astrology) coincided with the actions of the people.

For example, Aries are known for being incredibly impulsive and hot-headed and that really came through when the stars favoured or revolved around Aries. I wouldn’t have minded if astrology played a larger part in the book, however, because I’m into that kind of thing but for anyone wondering, astrology was mainly kept to the chapter titles alone and really had little bearing to the plot so it is so subtle a part that you don’t have to be put off by it.

I know The Luminaries is largely mixed in its reviews but I honestly think people just give up and are missing the point. The plot is incredible, all these people are connected so beautifully in magnificent ways (a theme I am an absolute sucker for) and I wanted to keep reading to get to the bottom of the mystery but really enjoyed the journey right through to the end.

I don’t recommend The Luminaries for the short attention spanned reader because the genius of it will probably be wasted on someone so willing to give up. Any astrology fans, mystery lovers or appreciators of great literature absolutely have to read this book because it is enchanting and deserves the utmost respect.
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on 21 January 2017
I appreciated the story by the end, but it was a hard slog getting there! If I hadn't been on a long holiday in New Zealand, I would not have persevered! I'm surprised that it won the Booker.
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on 31 August 2014
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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on 31 March 2017
100 pages in and I gave up through boredom.
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on 10 June 2017
What a totally tedious tale with an abrupt and unsatisfactory ending. Excruciatingly long winded. The whole book could easily have achieved its end in half its length.
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