Waxing and Waning
When my hold on The Luminaries was ready for pick up, I was surprised to see how large the novel is. I had seen the cover on amazon dozens of times, and I knew that it was a Man Booker Prize winner. But once I was able to sit down and open the novel, I realized that it was going to be a long haul.
If you want to be transported to a completely different time and setting, you must check out this book. Author Eleanor Catton created a novel about the size of Don Quixote, detailing 12 men who live and work on the West Coast of New Zealand, mostly hoping to procure a fortune in gold in the 1860s. One night, Walter Moody accidentally walks in on the men’s congregation, an important discussion about recent occurrences that have happened in the area. One man is dead. Another man is missing. A prostitute has been discovered on the road in a daze, probably from a failed suicide attempt.
At first, the novel seemed hard to get into, but once the story got going, I found it hard to put down. It’s an interesting murder mystery, where people are being extorted, impersonated, and even killed. I admire Catton’s attention to detail and care when crafting her characters. Even though there are a lot of characters, it didn’t feel difficult to remember who was who. I think it helped that many of the characters had their own stories in the novel and those stories were usually just with one or two other people.
The astrology component is clearly pertinent to the novel structure and to the narrative (Lydia is a type of fortune teller, using astrological charts in order to determine a person’s character). Before the novel begins, there is a chart of the characters and their astrology for the novel. At the start of every new part, the chart and symbols change.
One more thing I wanted to bring up about the the book was in the narrative structure. I remember reading Don Quixote, which was also around 800 pages and every chapter had a short preview in italics of what would happen in that section. The Luminaries uses the same motif. The first several chapters (and sections) are very long. But as the novel progresses, the chapters become shorter and the short previews become longer and actually start to take over the narrative. I was really interested in why the writer did that and I wondered if it had anything to do with the waxing and waning of the moon. Food for thought, I guess.