Ever since The Luminaries was announced as 2013’s Man Booker Prize winner, I have been intrigued to read it. When I heard that Eleanor Catton, the author, was my age, I immediately felt depressed that I have not even finished my (about) 200-page dissertation, when Ms. Catton quadrupled my page count. The sheer size discouraged me from picking it up before now (and I felt rather foolish for borrowing this tome, thinking I would just have to return it to the library). And then I opened the book.
I’m a huge fan of complex and intricate Victorian novels by George Eliot and Charles Dickens. So it boded well that I found myself remembering and tracing the plots of the twelve men featured at the beginning of the novel. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving anything away, but a bare-bones teaser will do, I suppose: Walter Moody arrives at the goldfields in New Zealand ready to make his fortune. When he arrives at his hotel, he stumbles upon twelve men in a secret meeting, all determined to connect a series of strange events: alcoholic recluse Crosbie Wells has been found dead in his shanty near his goldfield; prostitute Anna Wetherell has tried to take her own life; and wealthy man Emery Staines has mysteriously disappeared. All the men suspect the unscrupulous Francis Carver to have orchestrated these events. How each man is connected to Carver, Wetherell, Staines, or Wells proves to be a complex mystery that torses on itself and recreates itself as the novel moves on.
This is exactly the kind of novel I live for: beautifully written, complex, engaging, and populated with interesting, flawed people. If you like novels like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The French Lieutenant’s Woman, I can say that you will most likely enjoy this one a lot. It’s not a fast read per se, but one you make it through Parts I and II (the first half of the book), the novel really picks up speed (much like another favorite, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).
On a related note: this is exactly the kind of cinematic novel that would translate well to screen. I really think the BBC needs to get on it and film it RIGHT NOW. I already have my first casting choice for them:
See, you’d watch that.