A Star-Studded Affair: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries is one of those hulking, majestic books that makes you stop and stare, and after it won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, I was no stranger to this gape. Due to the ever-shrinking space available on my bookshelf, I impatiently awaited the paperback release, so as to save an extra inch. It called to me, though, this novel. When at my local bookshop, I would pick it up, test its weight, and scan the first few pages again, and again. If I used a calendar (I’m one of the lucky few who’s able to get by without), I certainly would’ve noted the paperback due date in red marker.
“So how is this giant book?" you wonder. Well, my edition boasts a solid and utterly fantastic 830 pages, and every single one—even during the more sluggish portions—was actually quite the treat. Eleanor Catton is a virtuoso, and this work is a breathtaking epic. (Please note I would say the virtuoso thing regardless of her youth; which, at the time of publication, was only fucking 28).
It takes place in the 19th century during the New Zealand gold rush, and has enough principal characters to make Dickens blush behind his beard. The book is not only written expertly with vibrant and vivacious language, but it is carefully constructed to align with the zodiac. I regret to inform the hungriest readers that my own journey through the novel did not involve me paying super-duper close attention to how it was structured. And it is a regret; you can tell how much thought and work went into fulfilling this additional feature, you really can. But the main point to be had is that, in the most joyous way, the fine-tuned structure doesn’t really matter: the book is brilliant even if you go in unaware.
This a page-turner, and thank the heavens for that, ’cause there’s a lot of them. But as anyone who likes to chomp down on one of these literary beasts knows (and why else would you be here?), the reward at the end can be tremendous. Maybe The Luminaries will have that payoff for you; maybe it won’t. Regardless of the destination (and the brief snippets of drudgery required to remember who the fuck everyone is), the ride through this young New Zealander’s masterpiece is fantastic.
The whole experience is a bit like going to see a 4th of July fireworks display in a new city. You’re not quite sure if it’ll be as good as previous efforts, and there are bound to be moments between the big bursts when you think, That’s it? After all this fuss? At the end of the show, however, when the sky quiets down and the pops and fizzles cease, you will have still been to see some motherfuckin’ fireworks. You just saw some shit explode in the sky, and it was pretty marvelous.