Spread across Eight Hundred and Thirty Two pages this book is a magnum opus of the New Zealand based writer, Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries is the winner of The Man Booker prize of 2013 and looking at the way the plot and characters are built, I would say Catton is an excellent writer and the book deserves a Booker. I started with 3 books when the Lockdown started and in the end this book pulled me to read only this. The other 2 gathered dust on my bedside table.
The novel is set in 19th century New Zealand during the years 1865-66. It is a time when the Gold Rush has started in the coasts of New Zealand. People are flocking the country from all over the world and Mr Walter Moody is one among them.
The crux of the novel is set around 3 incidents that happen on the night of January 14th in 1866 in the town of Hokitika.
Crosbie Wells, who lived a hermit’s life has passed away
The rich Emery Staines has disappeared
The whore Anna Wetherell is found in an unconscious state on a highway and people suspect that it is a suicide attempt.
The story starts 2 weeks from there at a hotel, where 12 men have gathered to discuss these unsolved crimes. Into this gathering arrives Mr Moody, who wants to be a digger and has come to try his luck in Hokitika. Soon Moody is drawn into the conversation by Mr. Balfour, who appears to be the leader of the gang.
These 12 men now go about explaining their side of stories to Moody. From them we find that Crosbie Wells was murdered and an enormous amount of gold is found from his home in the Arahura valley. We also find that Emery Staines has pledged to give 2000 pound to Anna Wetherell and Crosbie is a witness to this unsigned deed. What does this all mean? The interesting aspect of the stories told by these 12 men is that all of their stories are connected to these 3 incidents in a suspectful way. At the end of this story telling, which takes up almost one third of the pages, we wonder if one of those 12 men are behind this. The mystery behind the crimes slowly unravels when we read about the villain of the story, Mr. Francis Carver, Crosbie’s wife Mrs Lydia Wells, politician Alistair Lauderback and gaol keeper Mr George Shepard and comes to a conclusion with the courtroom drama towards the end.
The book is based on the astronomical signs and positions of the stars and planets, and it is interesting to see how much detail has Catton put in the book. The title itself denotes bright planets The Sun & The Moon that emits light. In the character chart it is explained that those are Emery Staines and Anna Wetherell. The 12 men are related to the 12 zodiac signs and the other characters are related to the planets. Crosbie Wells is related to Terra Firma, and he has a hut in the lands of Arahura Valley.
The book is organized in such a way that each part is almost half of the previous part in the number of pages. So you have the first part which runs into 360 pages and then the second which is close to 160 pages and this pattern continues till the end. There is a similarity in the introductions written on each chapter. At the start these introductions are very short and the content is more. As we progress towards the end, you see that the introductions are getting longer and the content is getting shorter. This clearly denotes the lunar cycle which also appears on the front and back covers of the book. We can also consider it as a metaphor which indicates that a murkier story gets more clearer towards the end. The title of each chapter also indicates who are the main characters in that chapter based on their planetary positions.
The Luminaries is a huge book spread across 832 pages. I understand that many people have left this book midway and have not returned to it. I am of the opinion that, if you can get through the initial few pages, then this is a book which does not bore you. It may not be a fast pace thriller, but the intricacies of the stories and the shadiness of the characters will make you turn the page.