The Luminaries Review

I did it, I managed to finish The Luminaries is exactly two weeks – a week less than I had set myself originally. There is nothing like a holiday deadline to speed things along! So while it is still fresh in my mind, here is what I thought of it…

I commented on the first section of the novel, which is a little under half of its entire length, in my last post. While I still enjoyed it, I stand by my view that the first section was overly wordy and sometimes rather long-winded, particularly in describing characters and scenes.

However, as the novel progressed I found that the narrative built up momentum and, by the time I came to the end, I was racing through the pages. This was partly due to the novel’s structure: Catton has divided the book in to twelve sections, with each one getting shorter, and the twelfth section is only a page long. The novel’s time frame is non-linear, but Catton structures the events cleverly so that we find out what happens much sooner than we discover how and why. The chapter summaries have become longer than the chapters themselves towards the end, meaning a lot of the plot is summarised very quickly. Lastly, the focus of the novel narrows; from the narratives of the twelve men in section one, the plot focuses on just two characters by the end. I enjoyed the second half much more than the first half, and on the basis of this would certainly recommend the book.

There are many themes running through the novel, including the astrological connections which I admit I still didn’t completely understand by the end. A lot more became clearer as I continued to read but the chapter headings throughout the novel meant nothing to me, nor did I have any understanding of how the characters were governed by their assigned stars or planets. I accepted part way through that this was the case, and I suppose I could have done some research myself but didn’t really feel inclined to. Perhaps this was my loss? But it isn’t really a subject which interests me.

Fortune and fate are strong themes in the novel, with most characters setting great store by their fortunes and the search for gold driving much of the plot. Symmetry and circularity also feature frequently, both in the characters themselves and their motives. Anna is described as “a reflected darkness, just as she was a borrowed light” and most of the characters have these two sides of light and dark to their characters, with the exceptions of the villains who are just plain evil. There are frequent references to events coming “full-circle” and of people getting what they deserve, although the narrative itself is sometimes circular and part of Balfour’s recollection of events is described “as endless circles, going round.”

This tale isn’t just told as though it is a nineteenth century mystery, it includes many features of one too such as supernatural occurrences. I did feel that some of the more fantastical elements in the story stretched the suspension of my disbelief a little too far, but there were other elements that made me question the story I was being told more, such as how Anna became involved in her trade. However, despite some of my reservations I did really enjoy the book and it was like nothing I have read before. I realise I haven’t provided a glowing review perhaps, but I mean to document my thoughts rather than anything else and I am surprised at how hard it was to do for this particular book. It is worth reading, if only for the style and the feeling that you have been transported back a hundred years or more to a different age of novel.

Lastly, despite having only just started this blog I am going on holiday tomorrow and won’t have chance to update this blog for a while as I really can’t face typing letter by letter on the IPad. But I will be reading plenty (hopefully) and will update when I next get chance.

Happy summer reading!

(Image from )


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