The Luminaries – Part 1

I began The Luminaries a week and a half ago, and so far I am making good progress – I am almost half way through. I have just finished part one of twelve, so I assume that the other parts will be shorter! I’ll provide a brief note on what the book is about and how I’m getting on so far but if you haven’t read it don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

Part one is set on a single day as a group of twelve men meet in a hotel bar. They are disturbed by a newcomer to the town – Walter Moody – who inadvertently stumbles upon the meeting and is taken in to the men’s confidence. The events of the past nine months are then related by these men, although as you can imagine with twelve different perspectives to deal with the tale takes a while to narrate – three hundred and sixty pages to be precise.

The novel is set in New Zealand in a gold mining community in the eighteenth century. What is unusual about the novel is that it is also told in the style of an eighteenth century novel, complete with a short summary at the start of each chapter detailing the main events to follow, whores. corpses and mystery. Although he doesn’t have much of a voice in the first section, Walter Moody decides he is to play the role of detective or “unraveller” and has his own mystery to bring to the group’s attention. The first section concludes with his tale. A tantalising hook from the first chapter meant that I was soon keen to read on and discover what I could about the mystery.

On the face of it, this is a detective story and on this level I am enjoying it. However. the author hints at extra depths within the novel by a baffling reader’s note and the inclusion of astrological charts at the start of each section. It is this that I am struggling with, as I don’t have much knowledge of star signs or astrology and these links have not become any more clear to me during the first section. It is like putting together a puzzle where the pieces seem to fit but you can’t make out the picture. Part of my annoyance is pride, that somehow part of this book seems to be going straight over my head and I am unable to understand it. The other part is frustration – is the author going to make this clear to me at any point? At over eight hundred pages long, this is not a novel I want to have to read twice to understand it.

I have experienced a few other annoyances, one being the length. I am enjoying The Luminaries, but there are some lengthy sections and detailed descriptions of each character as they are introduced which started to feel very formulaic early on. There are quite a few authorial interjections and repetitions in case the reader missed anything and at the end of the first section the entire plot is summarised in about ten pages, which made me wonder why I needed to bother with the first three hundred pages! Not that I would want it to be that short, but I feel the author could have trimmed a little here and there, particularly the summary which felt a little condescending – although useful if you glazed over at any point or took your time in reading it.

Despite these misgivings, I am still enjoying the novel and I am keen to get to the bottom of the mystery. The first section is entitled A Sphere Within a Sphere, and there are some neat symmetries within it including the length (three hundred and sixty pages), and the fact that there are twelve men gathered (thirteen including Moody), who could be representatives of the twelve months, or astrological signs, but who also make me think of the bible. There are a lot of references to the cyclical nature of the tale, and a one point Moody concludes that the narrative is as ”endless circles, going round” which I did agree with by the time I reached the end of section one!

I hope that some of the mysteries are resolved soon, and that I manage to finish it before I go away on a holiday which I haven’t booked yet but am supposed to be embarking upon a week tomorrow! It’s a long story, but I’ll go and continue reading rather than relate that tale…

Have you read The Luminaries? I would love to hear what you thought of it if you did – I am past the point of no return now – but no spoilers please!


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