[Review] The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

17:14 Cilla 4 Comments

'I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths—and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you has perjured himself in any way tonight. I trust that you have given me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole.' 
(Possible spoilers ahead!)

It took me five months to finish reading this book. Five. Months. By the end of it, I felt like it was a proper accomplishment that I actually finished it. That doesn't mean it's a terrible book. On the contrary, I finished it feeling in awe of Eleanor Catton. Along the way, there were genuine moments of shock, and just when I was about to give up, something pulled me back in. That said, I was ready to give up multiple times. You can say I'm pretty conflicted about how I feel. ūüėĚ

Although the synopsis focuses on Walter Moody, the new arrival to Hokitika who walks into the secret meeting of twelve men, the story actually revolves around twenty important characters. Each of them have a role to play in the plot, and at one point or another, we see the story from each of their perspectives. We get a detailed picture of each character - their manner of dress, general history, and personality - in their first chapter, so at first it was overwhelming. I was sure I'd forget someone, and even started a list of who's who as I was reading. Funnily enough, I never needed to refer to that list; I couldn't remember one guy, and he wasn't part of the main constellation anyway. Yes, there's too much information at times, but Catton's descriptions are filled with details that easily set each man apart. (I say men, because there are only three women in the ensemble, so it wasn't that difficult to keep track of them).

The fact that there are so many points of view is both frustrating and fascinating. On one hand, it feels like a puzzle where you get a small piece at a time. It's also a clever portrayal of the subjective nature of truth, and I have mad respect for Catton's ability in structuring her plot. On the other hand, it is soooo slow, especially at the beginning of the novel. Then again, it seems this is deliberate.

See, the whole time I was reading, I had this niggling feeling that Catton is pulling something clever with the novel's structure and the astrology theme. I could not figure it out though, not until I googled some analyses of the novel after I finished. Apparently each character represents a part of the solar system, and the chapters are set out like the cycle of the moon - from full to crescent. This understanding made me appreciate the book more, the magic-realism-y part of the novel made more sense too, even the cover made sense. I actually wish I'd looked this information up before I finished, because it would have made my reading experience less perplexing.

If you're the type of reader who's after character growth, this is not the book for you. Like parts of a solar system, everyone has a fixed role to play, and they never budged from that. This was probably why I was never invested in any of the characters. I was driven to finish 800 pages by curiousity about the plot and growing admiration for Catton's writing (and, okay, maybe the desire to prove to myself that I can get to the end). If I had the time and energy, I'd love to go back and pick through the book for writing tricks.

Overall, The Luminaries was an intriguing read. It demands concentration though, so don't read this when your focus and energy is needed elsewhere. For me, the effort required to read it took away some of the pleasure of reading, yet I think it was worth it for the experience of Catton's writing.

Reading this book contributes to the following challenges:

❥ Goodreads Challenge
❥ The Backlist Books Reader Challenge
Title: The Luminaries ❙ Author: Eleanor Catton ❙ Publisher: Granta 
❙ Source: Borrowed ❙ Release Date: 3 April 2014

"It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky."


  1. oh oh I'm not one known for being able to focused much :) I'm very much like Dory! this books seems unique but I do like character driven plots where at least the MCs have good story arc so I think this wouldn't be for me even though

    1. Yeah, don't read this if you like character-driven plots :) Your time will be better spent reading another book!

  2. This one sounds really unique, but twenty sounds too much for me and I can't really stand slow paces so I'm still on the fence whether to read this or not. Glad you enjoyed it though!

    Tasya // The Literary Huntress

    1. Thanks! I wouldn't recommend it if you don't think it's your thing. An 800page book should only be tackled if you really, really want to!


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