I can’t adequately summarize Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries in just a few sentences, so bear with me. The novel starts at the beginning of 1866 in a gold rush town named Hokitika on the West Coast of New Zealand. Walter Moody has just arrived after a long and disturbing ship ride. All he wants to do is relax in his hotel and compose himself. Instead, he finds that he has interrupted a secret meeting of 12 men who are discussing events that happened two weeks before his arrival.
An alcoholic recluse was found dead in his cabin, along with a large fortune in gold. On the same day, a prostitute was found unconscious and was charged with attempted suicide. Each of the 12 men is connected to these events in some way, and they each have their own motivations for wanting to get to the bottom of what happened. Are the events connected? Where did the large amount of gold in the recluse’s cabin come from?
The mystery turns out to be very complicated and many more characters come into play over the course of the story. The chapters move back and forth between characters, each time revealing a little more of their backstories and involvement. There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and I’m seriously impressed with Catton’s ability to keep track of it all and bring it all together in the end.
I’m also super impressed with Catton’s writing. The Luminaries reads very much like a book written in the mid-19th century. It puts me in mind of Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins…maybe a mixture of both. It’s not an easy read–it’s very long (800+ pages), and there are a lot of characters to keep track of–but I like a challenge, and I had fun trying to put the pieces together on my own.
I loved this book. I’m not surprised that it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize and that Catton is the youngest author ever to have won that award. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, The Luminaries definitely isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds like something you might be interested in, I highly recommend it.