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Mutton dressed as literary lamb?
on 10 November 2016
I don't usually go in for the hype surrounding Booker winners, but this sounded like a novel I would enjoy regardless.
A Victorian-esque mystery set during the New Zealand gold rush on the west coast during the 1860s was right up my street: I like Victorian fiction and history and although I haven't actually been to the west coast of New Zealand I have been to Dunedin and Otago where part of this novel is set and have even tried a bit of gold-panning myself in the mighty Clutha river amongst other places(unsuccessfully I might add).
I did quite enjoy this novel. I did finish it despite its daunting length. In fact I finished it quite quickly considering- despite it's clearly imitating the grandiloquence and verbosity of Victorian fiction it actually moves along at a pace after a slowish start- thanks largely to lengthy sections of dialogue, which although the author tries, never reaches the heights of true Victorian verbiage, and that after about halfway the chapters become increasingly shorter.
But what of it? Yes it's worth a read but I really can't see what all the fuss is about. It's basically a mystery and not a very complicated mystery at heart. It seems the author has taken this mystery story and tried to dress it up as something all together more meaningful rather than the fairly ordinary, well executed but still ordinary, historical novel that it is.
I don't believe in astrology so I can't begin to guess what the meaning of the astrological stuff is, if indeed it means anything or is rather a load of BS frankly.
All the principal characters are given a thorough character description: two or three lengthy paragraphs describing the origins, temperament and contradictions of their nature but ultimately they all end up fairly two-dimensional.
The time and place is evoked well but nothing lingers in the mind beyond the mostly dreary weather and the impression that this is nothing very original.
I can't see how the Booker judges thought this was worthy of the prize unless they decided they might as well give it to a shaggy dog story for once.
I can think of another novel set in the same time and place as this one that is far superior, infinitely less pretentious and a fraction of the length- 'The Colour' by Rose Tremain. If you want a Booker winner worthy of the prize set in a similar period and nearly the same place (Australia) then read 'Oscar and Lucinda' by Peter Carey.
The ambition and completion of 'The Luminaries' must be admired from such a relatively young author but it is as an apprentice piece compared to the two novels aforementioned and I am afraid the Booker award doesn't help matters-it only places undue weight upon its slender shoulders and heightens reader expectation for an ultimately average novel.