Sophisticated? Sure! Too clever for its own good? Maybe... Dickensian? Oh yeah!
But now don't think ill of me, I'm not giving five stars just because of the Victiorian mood, even if it is a big plus for me.
On the contrary, Catton managed to write a novel which is both wonderfully classic, with mysterious murders, false identities, concealed pasts, illegitimate sons, dozens of characters all somehow connected, and extremely modern in its scope and structure.
The author put a great effort in devising a story whose development is mainly based on the astrological chart, meaning that the plot follows the changes of a whole astrological year and its structure in based on the phases of the moon, with chapters that decrease their length as the moon wanes until the introduction becomes longer that the chapter itself.
Also the characters bend to this scheme with the murdered man, Crosbie Wells, acting as the Earth around which every event of the book revolves. The twelve "conspirators" that rule the first half of the book are associated to the zodiac signs while the other seven characters move in and out of the story just like the seven planets move thorough the astrological chart.
This makes the novel an huge and very complex rebus hiding another enigma in turn ("a sphere within a sphere") and therefore a mystery book compelling and fascinating like no others. And please keep in mind that I'm writing this even if I've always found everything related to astrology somewhat irksome, which accounts also for my poor knowledge of "all the things zodiac" so that I initially ignored the charts at the beginning of each section and I did not entirely understand the meaning behind the chapters' title, at least until I did some good, old google search.
Once you get the hang of it, the charm of the novel doubles, the interactions between the characters acquire a whole new meaning as well as the characters themselves, who mirror their astrological counterpart in attitude and behavior.
The reader feels both fascinated and challenged but he can also revel in Catton's prose, which, beside being gloriously attuned to the 19th century setting, is also rich, powerful, with great descriptive capacities and capable of deep psychological insight so that her protagonists easily conquer their public and the book does not remain just a cold brain-teaser.
Moreover, the author managed to reproduce the appeal of the classic victorian novel without incurring in some of its most old-fashioned and overly dramatic traits. The omniscient narrator, who tells his story using a paternal and ironic "we" and the chapter introductions all started by the notorious "In which.." all remind of the best Dickens, just like young Emery Stains, with his candor and enthusiasm is a totally fascinating new David Copperfield who dominates the story despite being missing for the majority of the novel like the poor Edwin Drood. Stains shares the title role with his astral twin, the prostitute Anne Wetherell, a "not so lost" soul with whom he alternates as the sun and the moon, forever gaining and giving strength to each other.
It is true that the story is a bit slow to start but I loved practically everything about it from its dozens of subplots to the way the characters waltz through the book passing the baton to each other and so showing the same event from twelve different point of view, even if this entails that we inevitably lose sight of some very promising figure (I tag along with the "mourners" of Walter Moody). Moreover, I found the circular structure of the novel leads a very astute way of concluding the book by filling those blanks that the partial narratives had left along the road.
Getting to the point: is this novel too sophisticated for you? My answer is: only if you want it to be. I've read many comments hinting, with a mixture of snobbery and resentment, that the author wrote the book with her fellow scholars and not the "real public" in mind. I say that this is a book that certainly challenges its readers, we should be grateful and rejoice in it....Continua
Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries" is a gigantic undertaking that impresses with its scale, captivates with its language and surprises with its style. Carried by a huge cast of characters coming from every corner of the world to start anew and find their fortune in New Zealand, this tale of mystery unfolds with the utmost patience as it introduces each new addition to the web of intrigue and, in the process, paints a vivid picture of a land caught in gold rush back in the 1860s. Written with elegant deliberation and an air of old-world sophistication, the book immediately strikes you with its classical beauty and almost Victorian grandeur. That such verbal calculation and flair is employed in the unlikely genre of suspense is refreshing and generally enjoyable. The first part of the book, which uses a covert gathering interrupted by an unknowing intruder as setting, is so cleverly conceived and exquisitely described it's stately, ominous, tantalizing, exuding both substance and atmosphere and succeeds as a drawn-out, endlessly intriguing overture to the story proper on just about every level.
It's not easy to keep the momentum going when there's such an army of people and histories to consider, however, and the book, with its 800+ page size, does lose steam from its mid-section on. An inevitable feeling of stuffiness begins to build as too many storylines cross and a purpose seems more and more obscure. Emblematic of the problem is an extended courtroom scene that should probably serve as the climax of a prolonged search for answers where different perspectives are finally aligned and conflicting narratives explained. Instead, the debate is lost in tedious details about dates and chronology that no one can possibly keep straight anymore.
The last part of the book, divided into short snippets and travelling back in time to before the deaths and thefts, injects a welcome dose of energy into something that's gotten too big for its own good and losing focus by the chapter. While it certainly helps clear up some questions with great efficiency, the promise from that soaring start of an intricately plotted, thoroughly realized masterpiece is ultimately not delivered....Continua
This award-winning book is definitely more "structure" than "story".
It's written in a 19th-century-novel style, and it's based on the very cool idea that characters and events are connected to the costellations' movements in the sky. I would have liked it much better, if the author did us the favour to explain how this connection is supposed to work, but there's only one very vague suggestion of it n the whole book. That's a pity, I really think that was a great idea, unfortunately it is poorly developed.
As far as the story itself is concerned: I normally don't like "hiccup-told" stories, jumping from one time and place to another, and forever changing the point of view. I think this style is supposed to add a bit of drama to the telling, but I find it annoying, especially if the plot itself is quite plain.
I can therefore admire the construction work that's behind the writing of this novel, but I still think it's a waste that it was not applied to a more entertaining story....Continua
bookshelves: e-book, autumn-2013, cover-love, booker-winner, published-2013, mystery-thriller, filthy-lucre, new-zealand, victoriana, recreational-drugs, dodgy-narrator, period-piece, seven-seas, pirates-smugglers-wreckers, gambling, teh-brillianz
Read from September 11 to October 30, 2013
[ Read in Autumn
For Pop, who sees the stars
and Jude, who hears their music
Note to the Reader
Table of Contents
OPENING: Part One
A Sphere Within a Sphere
27 January 1866
Mercury in Sagittarius
The twelve men congregated in the smokeroom of the Grand Hotel gave the impression of a party accidently met.
The nuggets we are promised at the start of this tale are as 'big as a lady's pistol' and newly landed all the way from Edinburgh, Scotland is Mr Walter Moody, and he is up for having his hands on some of that gold.
This is a hard story to sum up without giving away threads that may spoil enjoyment should you wish to embark on this fabulous journey, which is probably one of the finest victoriana mysteries I have read since Quincunx!
The narrator at points tells us that a speech or conversation is too dull or circumlocutional so we, the readers are whisked off to observe some other behaviour elsewhere. And once, when we are following two people who split up, the narrator chooses the one over the other to trail after. Dodgy; Dodgy; Dodgy; and I love this literary device which obfuscates.
Definitely not one for the speed-read-then-next brigade because you may need to take time to re-read passages and chapter headings. All the players pass each other in their orbits and everyone is interconnected through their nefarious lifestyles.
A eureka moment at page 200 lent me the idea that Aurora is a shifting curtain, colouring one way then the next, defying a pattern, and this mind's eye view certainly holds to the storyline, especially if those curtains/veils are as a woman's skirts.
How to win a wife, well at least this is marginally better than the outright sale as in The Mayor of Casterbridge.
The story is wound tighter than the ferns on page 350.
We love a happy medium
Page 478 Moody hits pay dirt.