Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Luminaries

Had I read The Luminaries with no prior knowledge of its author or date of publication, I would have believed it to be a work of 19th century British literature. Yet extraordinarily gifted writer Eleanor Catton is a New Zealander in her mid-twenties. How astonishing!

Ms. Catton has crafted 830 pages of intrigue with a large cast of richly-drawn characters that will no doubt, when its announced television miniseries is produced, represent an employment opportunity for British actors not witnessed since the Harry Potter series concluded.

I was loathe to leave her world of the 1860s New Zealand gold rush, and even when I reluctantly set the story aside to attend to such mundane tasks as eating, I imagined the streets of Traverse City had transformed to those of Hokitika, and I considered which dining establishment might receive my custom for the evening.

Ms. Catton takes care to introduce each character with a comprehensive description of appearance, personality, and motivations. Some are endearing, some are villainous. Some meet with the fates they deserve, some do not. Most early mysteries are explained, but there are a few blanks the reader will need to fill in with her own imagination.

I have only two quibbles with this hefty novel. First, the astrological structure was beyond my comprehension so I don't know if I missed some important meaning. Second, the dust jacket (of the American version) referred to it as a "ghost story", so I spent the entire novel wondering when the ghost would appear. I believe I know the "apparition" that elicited this description, but having finished the story, I wouldn't qualify it as a ghost, unless it is part of the meaning I fear I have lost by not being a student of astrology.

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