Books on GIF #50 — 'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton
|Books on GIF||Jul 16, 2017|
I'm back! This Sunday's book is 'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton.
I took this book with me on vacation to Thailand. My plan was to finish it quickly and trade it at a second-hand book shop for something else, and then keep flipping books so by the end of my stay I'd have several reviews in the can. Well, it took me roughly two weeks to slog through this 800-plus page tome, so my plan went:
Everything about this Booker Prize winner is massive. In addition to the page count, the sheer tonnage of characters and plot twists made it feel like a Leo Tolstoy / Agatha Christie mash-up. There's also this zodiac thing going on with astrological charts marking the book's sections and celestial positions serving as chapter titles. I don't know, for example, what 'Venus in Capricorn' means, and I have no clue how it relates to a story set during the 19th-century gold rush in New Zealand. To be honest, all this gimmick did for me was get The 5th Dimension singing 'Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In' stuck in my head repeatedly. Here they are singing it:
Anyway, I didn't know anything about the New Zealand gold rush, so I thought it would be a treat to be immersed in an unfamiliar and interesting setting. But even though there were charming and genuinely compelling scenes, and some excellent writing, throughout this book, they didn't outweigh the times I was lost or bored. I felt like saying:
But for you, dear readers, I persevered. The book starts on a dark and stormy night when a man newly arrived in the boom town of Hokitika enters a hotel bar and stumbles upon a meeting of 12 men. They have gathered to discuss matters of great importance: A drunk hermit has been found dead! A struck-it-rich gold miner has vanished! The local prostitute has been found drugged and unconscious in the street! The men, seeing the stranger as a disinterested party who can somehow help them, proceed to fill him in on all the intrigues, deceptions and other background information that's led up to their meeting. It involves murder, ghosts, love affairs, opium dens and smuggling gold inside the lining of a woman's dresses, among myriad other things. Normally, I'd flesh out the plot a little more, but it would take too long and I'm not sure I understood it all. 'The Luminaries' has a Tarantino-style narrative, jumping from the present to the past and back again, that often left me thinking:
My friend Heather said the most frustrating thing about this book is that there's no payoff. She's right. The climactic scene where the villain receives justice was so vague, brief and unsatisfying that I thought it was the set up for another, more climactic scene. Alas, it never came. I mean, for a book this long to have a blink-and-you-missed-it conclusion:
'The Luminaries' was OK. It would have been twice as good at half the size.
'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton was published in 2013 in Great Britain by Granta Books and in the United States by Little, Brown and Company. It was published by Back Bay in 2014. 830 pages.
What's next? In the coming weeks I'll review 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie, 'A Gentleman in Moscow' by Amor Towles and 'Family Lexicon' by Natalia Ginzburg, among others.
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