I just made ‘The Luminaries’ my bitch. I whipped through that sucker in just over a week and am now basking in the smug sense of satisfaction that comes of reading an 848 page novel that’s just won the Booker Prize.
Whether it was a deserved winner of the illustrious award is not for me to judge (mainly because I haven’t read any of the others on the short list 🙂 ) but I can say that ‘The Luminaries’ is a thoroughly absorbing inventive and intriguing page-turner.
The story is set in 19th century New Zealand during the gold rush and centers around a series of supposedly unrelated crimes; the disappearance of a wealthy young man, the attempted suicide of a prostitute and the fortune found in the home of a deceased luckless drunk.
How these events and many others are interrelated is what gives the novel it’s intense charm, for Catton holds the key to this mystery and lets the reader in on the salient facts little by little through a myriad of beautifully drawn characters most of whom are not what they seem.
In addition she has a rather, excuse the pun, novel organizing principle for her opus. Each chapter is preceded by an astrological chart and each character associated with a heavenly body, a clever way of displaying one of the primary themes of the book; how far we are masters of our own destiny and how far that destiny is actually predetermined.
By showing the same events from a variety of viewpoints she also manages to make the book feel very contemporary and more than just a rehash of the old school Victorian sensation novel
Her language too does not attempt to mimic the style of a 19th century book remaining plain-spoken, while still giving the reader a strong sense of time and place.
More than anything it’s the intricacy of the plot that impresses. With each new revelation it thickens without becoming bewildering complex.
I’m certain that though I may read one or two great novels this year none will surpass ‘The Luminaries’ for the scale and scope of its ambition .