Reviews

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

d0mpl1ng's review against another edition

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adventurous emotional mysterious reflective sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0

freyshka's review against another edition

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challenging mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.75

lnlntower's review against another edition

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slow-paced

3.0

msmandrake's review against another edition

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I struggled with this for awhile, it won the Booker, right, must be my fault, then I read a bunch of reviews that made me feel better about giving it up....

Oh, and I just remembered, don't I usually avoid books that win the Booker?

bethpreston's review against another edition

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adventurous emotional mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.0

elle_breen's review against another edition

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4.0

An epic novel, in nearly every aspect.

I think in order to correctly review this I need to break it down into sub-sections:

Plot -

I thought the plot was incredibly intelligent, how all the characters managed to have some sort of connection to the main event: Crobie’s death, was impeccably navigated. It was very coherent and clear, even in the times that it probably shouldn’t have been. My only criticism would be that some plot cliffhangers did not come to any conclusion, such as (spoiler) Carver’s death (we presume we know who it is but it is never answered); Moody’s father arriving so randomly at Hokitika and the random supernatural addition of Moody’s boat experience.

Characters -

I have seen this as the biggest criticism, that there were too many characters and it got confusing. Yes, there are many characters - though, I did not find them confusing rather I found their entangled story fascinating. I believe more characters got more focus than others, thus it became a bit unbalanced. Yet, there has to be a main character and main plot line for it to work - and Catton did make it work. I particularly liked the character of Anna, and I found the most interesting character was Lydia. She was the most multifaceted and described - I also think the TV version favours Lydia the most.

Structure -

This would be my biggest complaint. I found the novel, to be honest, rather long (800 pages!) and some of it could have been more concise: particularly the beginning. The chapters were very uneven and the subsections even more uneven - the beginning goes on for almost 400 pages whereas the ending chapters have only 10-50 pages max. I felt that even thought the ending was fast paced and quick, and encouraged the reader to find out what *really* happened; subsequently it felt very rushed and that (maybe) Catton wanted to get it over and done with?

Writing Style -

I loved this. This was, without doubt, my favourite part of the novel! The style it was written in was utterly beautiful - she is superbly talented. The easily accessible, yet Victorian English-esque format gives this sense of *epic*. I felt like I was reading something from Eliot, but brought into the 21st century. It was incredible, definitely something for those who find pleasure in writing style and the ability to write a complex story with such detailed events, woven into a beautiful, linguistic narrative.

I could go on, but I will finish on a high. Definitely worth reading and enjoying, but be aware that it will take a while!

9shyams's review against another edition

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3.0

There are decades when nothing happens, and then days when decades happen (forcefitting a quote). This novel is written by specific dates when years and months and weeks of plots come together for some pivotal moments.
'The Luminaries' is a thick novel, 800 pages, with 20+ characters jumbled together. Story moves slowly in first few hundred pages, and then it races, and reaches a crescendo. The only disconcerting part was last 50-60 pages where the attempt to stay on course with the same writing style became difficult to digest.
The characters were well developed, and at times I got transported into their world, picturising their faces, and locations and everything around them. That's an amazing feat, considering one has to imagine a 19th century setup in some remote New Zealand island. The fact that modern principles of trade, law, and human rights were followed was endearing to read.

mhall's review against another edition

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4.0

Sprawling cast of characters for this lengthy historical fiction novel about a murder in a Gold Rush town in New Zealand. The first half of the book is basically entirely a series of tete-a-tete meetings between different men while they hash out what happened, and it's totally compelling.

laurenguydan's review against another edition

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3.0

I'm just copying in this review from another reader, as she says everything I would want to say, only better!!

Rebecca Foster rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: victorian-pastiche, historical-fiction, door-stoppers, booker-shortlisted, review-we-love-this-book

"The curious case of the 3-star review…

I reviewed The Luminaries for We Love This Book; here I’ll simply attempt to explain why I gave such an accomplished book only 3 stars. It’s just the sort of book I should have given 5 stars: my MA is in Victorian Lit., Charles Dickens is a favorite author, and I adore historical fiction, particularly Victorian pastiche: Possession, The Crimson Petal and the White and English Passengers.

And yet The Luminaries didn’t grab me. It has all the elements of a pitch-perfect Dickensian mystery novel: long-lost siblings, forgeries, opium dens, misplaced riches, a hidden cache of letters, illegitimate offspring, assumed identities, a séance, a witty and philosophical omniscient narrator’s voice, and so on. If this was a Victorian paint-by-numbers competition, Catton would have top marks. But something is lacking here. I can’t help feeling that despite its technical perfection, The Luminaries is a book without a beating heart.

Lest I seem unfair, here are some more of the novel’s strengths: Catton proves a dab hand at revealing characters through both minute physical description and acute psychological insight. She’s especially good at examining interiority vs. exteriority (one of my favorite lines was “he built his persona as a shield around his person”), and the ways stories are altered in subsequent retellings. Her use of contemporary slang, circumlocutions (“d—ned”), chapter introductions (“In which…”), and a host of overarching fairy tales and ideologies, including the angel-whore dichotomy of nineteenth-century womanhood and the witch vs. the babes in the wood (brothel-keeping fortuneteller Lydia Wells against Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines), is all spot-on. Staines, in particular, is a brilliant creation: a thoroughly amiable, guileless naïf to rival any of Dickens’s fresh-faced heroes. And, indeed, the echoes of Dracula, Moby-Dick and the very best of Dickens – Our Mutual Friend especially, but also Bleak House and Great Expectations – are well-earned.

If I had to list a few minor quibbles, I’d mention that some of the more fascinating characters fade into the background as the novel progresses, rendering the original council of 13 largely irrelevant: brooding Walter Moody would have made for a great everyman protagonist, and Tom Balfour promised to be a delightfully tenacious detective like Dickens’s Inspector Bucket. Moreover, especially in the first half, Catton is over-reliant on the tête-à-tête as a means of advancing the plot; it is easy to grow weary of the tedious string of one-to-one meetings.

My main problem, however, is with the opacity of the astrology angle. The novel’s supposed uniqueness lies in this astrological framing device, but I remain unconvinced. The esoteric material (including horoscope charts at the start of each Part, chapter titles that reference zodiac signs, and lunar cycles that bring the narrative back around to meet its starting point) adds little, if anything, to the plot. Readers don’t need overt references to the Age of Pisces to spot themes of twinship and hiddenness – the clues are there already. Furthermore, Catton’s commitment to portraying a full year’s astrological changes requires looping back to revisit the events of 1865-6 for almost the full last quarter of the novel (thus, also, the unsubtle metaphor of the ouroboros – the ancient symbol of a snake biting its own tail – and the translation of the town name “Hokitika” as something like “full-circle”).

I do now understand how sly that cyclical technique is (it also ties in with the cover image of the waning moon); thank you to Elizabeth Knox, Catton’s fellow New Zealander novelist, for explaining that each successive Part is half the length of its predecessor – such that before long the chapter introductions are longer than the text they preface: commentary exceeds action. While I certainly recognize the skill that such a formal stricture displays, once again this is proof to me of academic accomplishment rather than novelistic vitality. In this respect, the novel appears too clever for its own good.

It’s a somewhat dispiriting experience for the reader to feel the plot winding down around page 600, only to realize that another 230+ pages remain. I will make a defiant claim here: I hold that the novel should have ended on page 628 (for those with page numbers different to my ARC, that’s after the first chapter of Part Four).

Apart from a first-rate courtroom scene, you won’t miss much after that point. You will already have unravelled all the vagaries of the plot by then, and you can end on the sweet note of Anna and Staines arriving in New Zealand, ready to face the myriad adventures that await them in the previous 627 pages. If not there, page 622 would do (the end of Part Three), or perhaps page 717 (the end of Part Four). But, alas, it’s as if Catton just doesn’t know when to put the book to rest.

In scope and seriousness, The Luminaries rivals almost any Victorian triple-decker – an impressive feat from a 28-year-old author, there’s no denying that. (Am I jealous at the scale of her accomplishment, given that she’s two years my junior? Perhaps, a touch. Still, I feel I’ve been fair here.) I love door-stopper novels – when every page is necessary. But when, as is the case here, nearly a quarter of the page count feels superfluous, there’s something ever so slightly off.

I wish I could have deemed The Luminaries a five-star book. It’s a rollicking, meticulously plotted mystery, as well as an enjoyable read. Plus it’s always nice to see something a bit different on the Booker longlist. It deserves its accolades thus far and I do hope it makes the shortlist, but did I love it? No; I admired it, but it didn’t earn my affection. Ergo, three stars.("

jenpinbowling's review against another edition

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4.0

don’t ask me a single thing that happened in this book