Review

The Luminaries

by Eleanor Catton

When Eleanor Catton was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, it was a triumph for this young New Zealand-based author. Her first novel, THE REHEARSAL, was written when she was only 22 years old and was also short-listed for various book awards.

Now, at the wizened old age of 28, Catton has officially become the youngest person ever to win the Man Booker Prize, which has been in existence for over 40 years. She now proudly follows in the tradition of prior winners like William Golding, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Hillary Mantel. The praise that Catton has received is well deserved. She not only has created a memorable work of literary fiction with THE LUMINARIES, she has done so with an 800-plus-page read that is packed with stunning atmosphere and complex characters. The year is 1866, and the setting is a small New Zealand town called Hokitika.

"Eleanor Catton needs to be praised for the fact that she is able to sustain interest and intrigue for 800+ pages.... THE LUMINARIES is an engaging novel that adventurous and patient readers will surely enjoy. "

Walter Moody is an Englishman and literal gold-digger who drags his weary body into the bar/smoking room of the Crown Hotel in Hokitika. Seeking to make his fortune and in need of guidance on the local territory, he enters a room filled with 12 men. Normally it would not be an uncommon occurrence save for the fact that it is quite evident to him that these individuals were in the middle of something highly secretive.

Moody is joined at his table by one of the men, a local named Thomas Balfour. Balfour’s presence breaks some of the obvious tension that fills the room, and he is a quite pleasant fellow. After learning of Moody’s intentions as a fortune seeker who has come to New Zealand’s goldfields, Balfour begins to share some information with him. This comes in the form of tales, and he is soon joined by the other members of the group as the stories begin to spin on and on.

It turns out that the men are part of a counsel of sorts, and their gathering is intended to discuss a series of mysterious events that have befallen their usually quiet town. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. As Moody is drawn into these various storylines and mysteries, he cannot help but get involved. Unfortunately, he will soon realize that he has bit off much more than he can chew. He will also come to find that his appearance may have been pre-ordained, and his involvement in all of these local mysteries may be far deeper than he ever could have imagined.

Above all, Eleanor Catton needs to be praised for the fact that she is able to sustain interest and intrigue for 800+ pages. The writing will hark back to classic storytelling styles like Dickens and Austen. The location she has created seems to exist in a world of its own and comes across like a “Twin Peaks” sort of town, where each and every resident are not what they seem to be, and all have stories and backgrounds that are vital to the plot. THE LUMINARIES is an engaging novel that adventurous and patient readers will surely enjoy. 

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 1, 2013

The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton