The Luminaries: by Eleanor Catton
literature as masterful story-telling
The first time I ever heard of the ‘Man Booker Prize’ was on NPR. Turns out the book that won it that year was garbage (in my humble opinion), but I read some more, and one of my favorite novels of all time turned out to be an MB winner. I don’t read very much fiction, but I do try to read each year’s winner if I get the chance.
I gulped when I pulled The Luminaries off the shelf, felt the 800+ pages, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to devote that much effort. I followed the ‘100-minus-your-age’ rule, read the first 72 pages, and then wanted more. I was getting hooked. By the time I finished the first (and largest, by far) section of the book, I had to finish.
The story is a mystery: how did Crosbie Wells, a hermit gold prospector, die? Where is Emory Staines, the richest young man in the town? What happened to Anna Wetherell, found unconscious in the street? There are more questions than this, but these are big ones. The first section of the book depicts 12 men from the town, with various connections to these questions, gathered in a room, telling their stories, trying to piece it all together.
I had the sense near the beginning that this was going to be epic in story-telling scope, and it was. The unreliability of differing human perspectives with different motives and different interpretations is explored throughout the whole book. There were no overarching moral themes that stood out — this was just a very well written mystery, with dozens of twists and turns, and the the truth from the past unfolded the deeper you go. The book cycles through the 12 different men, and a few key women, and works its way backward in time — in some sections — while working its way forward in others. The progressive unfolding of the big picture is an incredible ride.
I enjoyed The Luminaries as a really good story. I enjoyed the style, the characters, the suspense, and the revealing of the mystery. It was worth the effort, for me.