Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: Winner of 2013 Man Booker Prize

Author: Sherry Helms

The LuminariesNew Zealand author Eleanor Catton, who was 25 when she started penning down The Luminaries, an ambitious 832-page murder mystery, became the youngest Man Booker Prize Winner ever on this Tuesday. The 28-year old author beat out Colm Toibin, Ruth Ozeki, Jhumpa Lehri, and Jim Crace to get the Fiction’s highest accolade.

Born in Canada to a New Zealand father, Eleanor has written just one previous novel- The Rehearsal-, in 2008 for which she was honored a fellowship to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. But now her second novel, which is set in 19th century New Zealand’s gold rush, brings a huge boost in sales and publicity. “I’d always wanted to write a story that was set during the gold rush years just because it was a period of New Zealand history that had always really fascinated me,” Catton said.

Begin with a complex, self-consciously Victorian plot, The Luminaries centers on a young Scots-born lawyer- Walter Moody who has just arrived to a New Zealand prospecting town and stumbles upon a secret meeting where twelve local men discussing a series of unsolved crimes; a dead recluse, a stash of gold, a missing rich man, and an unconscious enigmatic whore.

There is a goldsmith, a banker, a chemist, a gem hunter, a chaplain, a hotelier, a general contractor and others. They take turns to tell their own stories about the events that took place two weeks earlier in the town to the recently arrived lawyer- Walter. Catton’s The Luminaries is a story about power, gold rush, infidelity, identity, seances, puzzles, and opium, but especially, it is a celebration of the ability of storytelling, in terms of both of her amazing novel and the stories her characters put in the picture.

The author has amazingly portrayed the characters by using their distinctive astrologically coded personalities. For example, the character of hotelier is connected with Cancer and depicted as a “hopeless romantic.” She has meticulously and precisely highlighted all the things that divide her characters including race, gender, caste, family, religion and education. In her award-winning book, “The Luminaries,” Catton follows the formula of Wilkie Collins: “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait.”

The plotting and structure of the novel is so graceful that will wrap you up in its world. Due to her exceptional writing and master storytelling acumen, Catton manages to fuse every known genre -suspense, murder, horror, romance, thriller, redemption in one story, which makes the novel a page-turner. Although, The Luminaries is a hefty book at 832 pages yet it’s chock full of goodness that will never let you put it down.

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