Friday, February 14, 2014
Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Author: Eleanor Catton
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Personal Copy
This book would be rated: It's funny, it takes place during the Victorian Era and is very Victorian in many ways-- the bad language is abbreviated, for example. I guess I'd say PG-13, mostly because most of the characters are crooks in one way or another
When I go on vacation, I use the travel time to read (are you surprised by that?). In fact, my favorite days on family vacations are the days when we're in the car most of the day. Ed drives, we talk, the kids are all strapped in the back, and there's always a book on my lap. When we left for Miami a few weeks ago, I had my Kindle all stocked up with a bunch of books. I cracked this one (metaphorically), on the flight out. If we're flying for six hours and have a two-hour layover, like we did on this trip, I will usually read an entire book. Last year when we flew to China, I read four books on the way over. Those books were not The Luminaries. Despite reading most of the flight to and from Miami, one day sitting at the pool, and any time I had down time in the hotel, I wasn't able to finish The Luminaries on vacation. I was feeling kind of bad about it on the trip home, until Ed and I stopped in a bookstore in the airport in Dallas. I saw the book sitting on a shelf, and it looked like a dictionary. It was tall and wide, and the text inside was dense. Reading on my Kindle, I just kept thinking I was slow, or the story was too difficult for me to understand.
My high school must have bought the entire collection of Charles Dickens, because it seemed that we spent a lot of time reading Dickens. Other than a novel or two in college, I haven't read any Dickens since. Once I learned that he was paid by the word and that verbosity wasn't necessary to his stories, I kind of lost interest in the guy. More than anything The Luminaries, despite being published in 2013, reminded me of something Dickens might have written, if he had hopped on a ship and traveled to New Zealand.
The story starts on a dark and stormy night (at least that's how I pictured it), when English lawyer Walter Moody lands in a New Zealand goldrush town in the 1860s. He stumbles into the private back room of a pub, where twelve men are discussing their roles in some strange events around town: one man is dead, another has gone missing, and one of the prostitutes was found nearly dead in the street. These three plus the twelve men, plus Moody, a few others form the central characters of the novel (a 900 pager can have 20 main characters, I'm pretty sure). It's a long, rambling book, full of lies, stories that don't quite check out, intrigues, selfishness and greed. It's also quite readable, once a 21st century reader takes the opportunity to read at a 19th century pace.
It won the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and I'm glad I read it (I didn't even know there was a gold rush in New Zealand until I read this novel), but I probably could have read half a dozen other things in the time it took me to finish it.