The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton


A murder mystery set in the Hokitika goldfields in 1866.

❖ “The Luminaries is a ghost story and murder mystery set in  Hokitika, New Zealand. It is 832 pages and won the Booker Prize.

“Its protagonist Walter Moody comes across 12 men having a secret meeting in the lounge of his hotel in the opening pages. The men take him into their confidence and advise of a string of strange occurrences, including the death of a local man, the attempted suicide of a prostitute and the disappearance of a wealthy gold miner.

“Since all of these events happened on the same night, the group is under the impression they are linked. They turn to Moody for help and he is soon drawn into the mystery, and into a network of fates and fortunes as complex as the night sky.

“While the main plot of the novel is simple, the subplots are complicated as the characters become entangled in one another’s lives. Each of the 12 chapters has links to astrology and the astrological links of the characters according to their birth. Catton does not tie up all the loose ends leaving the reader to evaluate the evidence and decide was must have happened. The result is that a book with a seemingly simple plot is quite complex in depth and structure.”

We spend our entire lives thinking about death. Without that project to divert us, I expect we would all be dreadfully bored. We would have nothing to evade, and nothing to forestall, and nothing to wonder about. Time would have no consequence.

❖ “Where to start! The structure of this epic story is sometimes so simple yet sometimes so complex, it does require a focused and dedicated read. I can’t begin to imagine the intellectual prowess it must have taken to put together. (Mind is blown.) But I know from Catton’s The Rehearsal that she is a writer who doesn’t waste a word, so The Luminaries‘ multi-layered complexity/simplicity over 832 pages was not a surprise. It’s fair to say I finished this knowing I had missed a lot of detail and in no way understood the true genius of this work. It’s clear this is going to enter the history books as a NZ classic. Hopefully one day I will have the patience and understanding to re-read it and truely appreciate it.” – Rachel

❖ “To my eternal shame I have attempted this book 3 times and it remains unfinished.  This is a reflection on ME and my distractibility NOT the author.  Don’t judge me ok! I have always enjoyed it as far as I’ve read it! Watching Eleanor Catton speak in Nelson in 2014 was just so good.  One of my heroes, literary and otherwise.” – Suzy

❖ Rachel: As an aside, Suzy and I attended an afternoon with Eleanor Catten some months after this and we were amazed to learn how deep the layers of this book actually go. She spoke passionately about astrology and music having an in-sync rhythm as well as the development of her characters in true Victorian style. We had to struggle not to bow to her as we exited the venue afterwards!

Published 2013
Victoria University Press
832 pages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: