Reviews for Luminaries


BookPage Reviews 2013 November
A brilliant, intricate mystery unfolds in New Zealand

Eleanor Catton’s historical suspense novel The Luminaries is built like a triple Decker—one of those 19th-century novels that were so substantial, they were published serially in three volumes. Clocking in at over 800 pages, this pitch-perfect Victorian pastiche set in New Zealand has all the right elements: long-lost siblings, hidden caches of letters, a séance and a villainess so wicked she could have walked right out of a Wilkie Collins novel.

When Walter Moody comes to Hokitika in 1866, it is to make his fortune in the gold fields. At his hotel, he happens upon a meeting of 12 men nervously discussing a rash of mysterious local occurrences. A prostitute has been arrested after overdosing on opium. A wealthy man has disappeared. A recluse was discovered dead in his isolated cabin. Moody is drawn into the intrigue, though he initially keeps his own secrets about the strange events that occurred on his voyage from England. 

Several period devices help tease out the threads of this complex story: multiple narrators; 19th-century slang and circumlocutions such as “d-mned”; and chapter introductions that set the stage for the action to follow. Intriguingly, Catton uses astrology as an organizing device, with star charts at the start of each chapter—which grow shorter and shorter as the book progresses, to imitate the waning of the moon—and the circling of 12 “stellar” characters around eight “planetary” ones.

Like many long novels, The Luminaries lags at times; in some ways, the action concludes long before the novel does, and the wealth of characters and overlapping action make it occasionally difficult to keep track of who did what when. But Catton, whose debut novel, The Rehearsals, was written when she was just 22, balances this with accomplished writing that shows an engaging flair and a real gift for characterization. This multilayered and complex second novel is as much about the sheer enjoyment of reading as it is about solving the crime.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2013 October #1
A layered, mannered, beguiling yarn, longlisted for the Booker Prize, by New Zealander novelist Catton. When Walter Moody arrives on a "wild shard of the Coast"--that of the then-remote South Island--in late January 1866, he discovers that strange doings are afoot: A local worthy has disappeared, a local belle de nuit has tried to do herself in, the town drunk turns out to possess a fortune against all odds, and the whole town is mumbling, murmuring and whispering like Sweethaven in Robert Altman's Popeye. Indeed, when Moody walks into his hotel on that--yes, dark and stormy--night, he interrupts a gathering of 12 local men who are trying to get to the bottom of the matter. Moody, as it turns out, is trained as a lawyer--"By training only," he demurs, "I have not yet been called to the Bar"--but, like everyone else, has been lured to the wild by the promise of gold. It is gold in all its glory that fuels this tale, though other goods figure, too, some smuggled in by the very phantom bark that has deposited Moody on the island. Catton's long opening, in which the narrative point of view ping-pongs among these 13 players and more, sets the stage for a chronologically challenging tale in which mystery piles atop mystery. Catton writes assuredly and with just the right level of flourish: "He was thinking of Sook Yongsheng, lying cold on the floor inside--his chin and throat smeared with boot-black, his eyebrows thickened, like a clown." She blends elements of Victorian adventure tale, ghost story, detective procedural la The Moonstone and shaggy dog tale to produce a postmodern tale to do Thomas Pynchon or Julio Cortzar proud; there are even echoes of Calvino in the author's interesting use of both astronomy and astrology. The possibilities for meta cleverness and archness are endless, and the whole business is too smart by half, but Catton seems mostly amused by her concoction, and that's just right. About the only fault of the book is its unending length: There's not an ounce of flab in it, but it's still too much for ordinary mortals to take in. There's a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It's work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews 2013 December #1

Step into the world of 1886 and New Zealand's goldfields in this Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Catton (The Rehearsal). The plot is complex and nonlinear, often folding back on itself, or, in the author's own words, "moving with the pattern of the heavens." No brief summary can do justice to this tale of more than 20 intertwined characters that begins with a young stranger arriving in town from Scotland and accidentally joining a clandestine meeting of 12 men gathered to analyze unsolved crimes in their frontier community. Within days, a wealthy man mysteriously vanishes, a prostitute attempts suicide, and a fortune in gold is uncovered in the rundown cabin of a reclusive alcoholic. Crime, deception, intrigue, and even love have a part, but this is a Victorian novel written in the 21st century, and the author takes her time weaving her tale, so much of the mystery is not revealed until the last 150 pages. VERDICT Not for everyone. At 800-plus pages, this very long, dense, and intricately crafted novel requires a commitment to finish, but readers will be rewarded for their efforts.--Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA

[Page 87]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 September #5

With a knack for conveying robust detail in an economy of straightforward language, Catton (The Rehearsal) untangles a dazzling knot of interwoven lives to explain how the town hermit, Crosbie Wells, wound up dead and the town whore, Anna Wetherell, drugged and disoriented. Her chosen setting--the New Zealand gold rush, and central figure--the fish-out-of-water Walter Moody, contribute to an atmosphere ripe for storytelling. And, from the beginning, this is the heart-pounding sport of the manifold suspects, witnesses, and possible accomplices. The shipping merchant Balfour tells of receiving politician Lauderback's tale of mischief, of involvement with one Lydia Wells...or Carver...or Greenway, she who is supposedly the wife of both the hermit Wells and his purportedly murderous brother, Francis Carver; and she who represents the planetary force of desire. Lauderback's recounting of lascivious involvement with her gives way to the story of the thug Carver overtaking Lauderback's vessel the Godspeed and setting the politician up for a fall, which gives way to an Irish Free Methodist minister overhearing the divulgence and adding his bit: he attended to both the whore and the deceased hermit. His story opens onto another, which inspires another, and so forth. With a calculated old-world syntax by which the tamest of swear words are truncated, Catton artfully restrains her verse, and she occasionally breaks the fourth wall--reminding readers that this story is about, above all things, the excitement of storytelling. (Oct.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

With a knack for conveying robust detail in an economy of straightforward language, Catton (The Rehearsal) untangles a dazzling knot of interwoven lives to explain how the town hermit, Crosbie Wells, wound up dead and the town whore, Anna Wetherell, drugged and disoriented. Her chosen setting--the New Zealand gold rush, and central figure--the fish-out-of-water Walter Moody, contribute to an atmosphere ripe for storytelling. And, from the beginning, this is the heart-pounding sport of the manifold suspects, witnesses, and possible accomplices. The shipping merchant Balfour tells of receiving politician Lauderback's tale of mischief, of involvement with one Lydia Wells...or Carver...or Greenway, she who is supposedly the wife of both the hermit Wells and his purportedly murderous brother, Francis Carver; and she who represents the planetary force of desire. Lauderback's recounting of lascivious involvement with her gives way to the story of the thug Carver overtaking Lauderback's vessel the Godspeed and setting the politician up for a fall, which gives way to an Irish Free Methodist minister overhearing the divulgence and adding his bit: he attended to both the whore and the deceased hermit. His story opens onto another, which inspires another, and so forth. With a calculated old-world syntax by which the tamest of swear words are truncated, Catton artfully restrains her verse, and she occasionally breaks the fourth wall--reminding readers that this story is about, above all things, the excitement of storytelling. (Oct.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

----------------------