I personally believe that the Man Booker prize never reaches the most deserving candidate, regardless of how acclaimed Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, J M Coetzee and Hilary Mantel’s writings have been. I still have not come across this year’s winner (which is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James), but I can say this effectively now that The Luminaries not only deserved the 2013 prize, but is also a highly valuable and adept addition to English Literature globally today.
This 832 pager will take ages even for an avid reader to finish up and in all its glory it has shown that excellent fiction and carefully controlled writing can indeed add to the amount of goodness that enters in a reader’s head who is craving some well written literature. There are various strengths and a couple of weaknesses from the plot and the writing, which I will highlight below.
This is an unemotional book, except for the parts in the end where the book chapters get shorter and shorter (each part is half the length of the previous part) along with the breath of the reader who cannot wait to gulp up the end. This plot derives from the gold digging mines in the mid-1800s in New Zealand (the author’s home town) where a murder (most likely) has taken place a midst several unsolved crimes of perplexing nature. Twelve men, each under the influence of a different zodiac and belonging to a different profession get involved, so compellingly tangled that a reader will look several times at the beginning of the book where each character’s profession is given and eventually will stop looking and just carry on with the reading. Other than these twelve men, a prostitute exploited by many characters for their financial and evil schemes, a man who comes seeking his fortune in the gold fields and the cunning pair of the antagonists all form a thick plot which piles confusion upon confusion in this labyrinth of a tale. I must say, never have I ever read such a well-structured, methodological and thickly layered prose (excluding Tolkien and Rowling’s writings) to such a great extent before. I could not make out a single word of “lazy writing”; each and every word, a comma, a sentence has been chosen to the best of the degree by Catton.
Reviews will suggest that this over written tome just could not touch the hearts of many readers who missed a sentimental touch which the book lacked. True that, however this is not meant to be a sentimental read where you would develop sympathy or fondness for one character or so and probably shed a tear or two over the exploit they suffered at the hands of the crafting characters. No, this is a very technical murder-mixed-with-unsolved-crimes kind of plot, where you shall flow within the richness of the Victorian styled prose and the sheer craftiness of Catton’s writing. Furthermore, readers and critics have pointed how the astrological division could not makes sense in the book (the novel is divided methodically in terms of astrological signs and divisions) however that can be put aside as even that is well controlled within the environment of the book and gives it that “nerdy” feel and a greater scope.
Bear in mind that this is NOT a progressive story. The firsts few chapters will highlight the situation at hand and the right till the end the book will just show you how each and every character tangles up within the carefully elaborated setting and how different threads tangle to make a hot mess in a single bunch as the book develops. Do not even try this if you are not interested in the gold fields and mining, in extremely expressive character sketching or scene setting or if you just don’t have the stamina to pursue a thick book. For everything vice versa, The Luminaries shall satisfy your love for nerdy, thick books with all its excellence in English writing and prose depiction. Cheers!