This week I finished reading Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries. For the most part, I liked it very much. However it took awhile for me to get into the 830 page book. I found the first two hundred pages to be somewhat lumbering and confusing, as Catton introduced a dozen or so principal characters into the narrative at a rapid pace. It takes a bit to sort everything out, but half way through the book I truly became involved as the plot developed nicely through the various intricate interconnections among the characters.
Set in the rough and tumble of the campsites and boom towns of the New Zealand Gold Rush of 1865-1866, The Luminaries is Catton’s homage to the great period novels of Charles Dickens. The characters are cast in a Victorian aura, seemingly lurking in the shadows of the day and night. Catton’s italicized brief summaries before the narrative of each chapter is also a nice Dickensian literary device.
I especially liked the author’s empathetic treatment of the two Chinese and the one Maori among the principal characters. She avoids stereotyping, and the individuality and humanity of each of them were strongly evidenced as the story unfolds.
At its heart, the book is a basically an astrologically fated match between two unlikely lovers interwoven into a complex solving of a murder mystery. Catton’s writing is beautifully stylistic and so incredibly imitative in cadence and tone to fine writing a century and half ago. Such a talent deserves the highest recognition, and this year the Man Booker Committee judged Eleanor Catton to be the recipient of its Prize.