September 17, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Hokitika, New Zealand, 1866. Twelve men gather in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel. Walter Moody–who is just off the boat and hoping to make a killing in the ongoing gold rush–stumbles into the room, inadvertently crashing the party, or council.
For the next few hours, he will hear of the strange happenings that have brought these men together: a mysterious death, a disappearance, the discovery of an unexpected fortune, the near-death of an esteemed prostitute.
Their stories go on for about the first half of Eleanor Catton’s new novel The Luminaries; and after that, things just get stranger. The Free Online Dictionary offers three definitions for the word luminary:
1. An object, such as a celestial body, that gives light.
2. A person who is an inspiration to others.
3. A person who has achieved eminence in a specific field.
Each of the twelve men operates in a different field–there’s a newspaperman, a pharmacist, a hotel-keeper, an opium den-operator, and so on–and each was born under a different sign of the zodiac, or in any case each is tagged by our novelist with a different sign.
WAIT! Don’t stop reading because you don’t believe in astrology. I mention it because the novel moves so oddly through time and space, with the twelve men and other characters influencing (sometimes inspiring) each other in surprising ways. The Luminaries runs for more than 800 pages, but the web-filaments stretching among the characters kept me fascinated, reading in bed at night when I should have been too conked to stay interested.
And I’ve hardly mentioned the women. Lydia and her séance, Anna and her missing bullet.
Susanne revealed in our previous post that The Luminaries has been nominated for the 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. I haven’t read the other nominated books, so I can’t very well root for this one; but Catton has done something remarkable, here, and given us a New Zealand gold rush with a treasure falling into our hands every time two characters meet.