The Luminaries – reviews

That was a long ride… Too long. I started reading the original version in February, but got “reading block” for a long time.

The Luminaries got a lot of buzz for the author when she won The Man Booker Prize in 2013. It took some time for the book to arrive to Poland – our translation was published in October 2014, almost a year later. It’s published as Wszystko, co lśni, probably a better choice than forgotten “luminarze” word, which is rather used for famous people in the science (or art) field.

The book was labelled as a Victorian novel, which for me don’t bear any meaning nor any (not)fond thoughts, probably like for the vast majority of people in the world. I did read some Victorian novels during my school years (we had to) but otherwise… I don’t bother myself if it’s a good “Victorian novel” or no. I started the book reading with open mind, not expecting anything. I was even cautious of the “it’s so great”.

So, what I think about it?

About the Author

Eleanor Catton is Canadian-born New Zealand author. She published her first book The Rehersal in 2008. The Luminaries – published in 2013 – is her second book. She is the youngest writer that was awarded the Man Booker Prize (28 yo at that time). I assure you, that I didn’t let her age influence my opinion about the book – it was irrelevant, perhaps except for more marketing.

About the Book

The Luminaries - Eleanor CattonThe Luminaries is set in 1866 in New Zealand’s Hokitika town during the gold rush. It starts with a crime and a bunch (12) of men plotting in mystery at a hotel. Unexpectedly, a newly arrived Walter Moody enters their meeting.

The book is divided into 12 parts, each half the length of the previous one. Each of the parts opens with an astrological chart, illustrating the heavenly influences on some of these characters. Individual chapters have astrological titles like “Mercury in Sagittarius” which indicates the influences and relationships that will be featured.


The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress—frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill—they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railway—deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain.
Such was the perception of Mr. Walter Moody, from where he stood in the doorway with his hand upon the frame.


There are too many characters in the book, some are tossed out quite soon (like Walter Moody, Te Rau Tauwhare). Yet, with all of those characters, there is really none that I would at least sympathise with, or identify with. Some characters (Chinamen) are pitiable, but I feel quite distant to the characters and the book.

As you could see, the style is sometimes overly detailed and lengthy. Several-verses long descriptions reminded me of those books at school that I didn’t like. Tho, especially when giving the information about character’s psyche it was (sometimes) interesting.

On the other hand, especially at the ending, I didn’t like the starting verses before each chapter (In which Anna Wheterell/Ah Quee/… etc.). One of the pre-chapter verses were giving the whole detailed background and there is just few verses of talking. Was those pre-chapter verses a cheat sheet for children in case they’ll have to do the list of events in the book at school?

The whole hard astrological work is, in my opinion, wasted. I didn’t appreciate the 12 parts, 12 zodiac and astrological allusions. I don’t think most of the reader actually knows what it means “Mercury in Sagittarius” and can enjoy the good (?) work of the author. Perhaps to fully appreciate the book, I’d have to dig up into astrology and read the book again. Which I don’t want to do anytime soon.

I liked like everybody were connected which each other, mingled. The 6-step to know somebody, had much lesser number in the book. I enjoyed the “going in circle” feat, at least I could have some more insight in people, and got an opinion on Anna (finally) and Emery.

I liked the setting (gold rush/New Zealand) and I feel I got some more information on New Zealand. I’d gladly read another book set in New Zealand. Or comic. Or an author from New Zealand. (I do have some in mind already). That includes another book by Eleanor Catton. I might disagree with the geniality of her book, but it was good – even if I felt sometimes it was too long for the sake of the design. I would like to read Catton’s third book, when she writes it – to see  how she managed all the fame and buzz.

If you have a lot of time, like mystery without too much romance, and/or historical fiction, go for it. If not, you won’t loose too much. There are probably enough of “good books” that you have missed reading already.

My opinion: 7/10.

What do you think of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton? Or are you before reading it?


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