“Never underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is to understand a situation from another person’s point of view.”
What is this book about?
Catton tells the story of 12 men meeting in a local tavern in New Zealand in 1866 to discuss the disappearance of a young and prosperous gold digger and the two woman connecting all of them. A Melvillian murder-mystery!
Why is it boring?
It can get a bit too Melvillian. The story is over 800 pages long and although it makes sense to write a big book if you have about 15 main characters, after a while you just have enough. The flowery language is also not a great way to draw you in. It should have a beware notice on the front for extremely long descriptions of people and places and events.
Who would you recommend it to?
Literary prize junkies, historic novel lovers and readers with a penchant for long chapter titles and astrology. Eleanor Catton is the youngest person (not just woman!) to ever win the Man Booker Prize, which already guarantees you you won’t be reading a terrible book. If you like reading the prize winners so you can talk about it with your book club, this is definitely one for you.
Besides being well-liked by a jury, the book is also a very interesting insight into 19th century New Zealand and the gold rush in general. The Luminaries is a detailed, fictionalized history of that time which makes it an excellent historic novel! And although some might find it a gimmick, every part of the book is part of an astrological system, complete with drawn star-charts and influences the zodiac might have on the characters. Then every chapter title is about as long as the chapter itself, especially near the ending, with lovely examples like: “In which the chemist goes in search of opium; we meet Anna Wetherell at last; Pritchard becomes inpatient; and two shots are fired.”. Although I love the explainy titles, I can totally imagine it feeling tedious.
Why should I read it if it’s boring?!
It’s still a murder mystery! The book tells a tale about stolen identities, the gold fields, family revenge, a seance, star-crossed lovers and romanticized opium dens. It has plenty of interesting characters and story lines, but that might be its downfall. The story is long, but exciting and the descriptions are long, but well-written. It also has one of those endings that seems to go on forever. The story is wrapped up neatly, but Catton feels the need to keep on rearranging the bow on top until it is absolutely perfect. The ending is overworked and I would have liked the book much better if it had quit about 200 pages earlier. It is by no means a bad book, but it is one of those books you have to really want to finish, otherwise you will too easily put it aside for something lighter.
This Boring Book Recommendation is unofficially brought to you by The Morning News Tournament of Books in which The Luminaries is one of the contenders. If you wanna see how to book fared in the Tournament against Hill William, the indie underdog, read the very controversial ruling by Rachel Fershleiser.