The Luminaries

“For although a man is judged by his actions, by what he has said and done, a man judges himself by what he is willing to do, by what he might have said, or might have done–a judgment that is necessarily hampered, not only by the scope and limits of his imagination, but by the ever-changing measure of his doubt and self-esteem.” (p. 142)


I suppose at its heart, in the very middle of a circle which circles itself many times over, is the question of Emery Staines. Is this owner of gold-bearing ground in New Zealand alive? Did he, in fact, leave two thousand pounds to the whore Anna Wetherell? But the route to this question is so circuitous, so intricate, so multi-layered and nefarious that it took me to page 550 to even determine a core question.
Well, of course, there are other questions. Such as, “Is Mr. Crosbie Wells the same man as Mr. Francis Carver? And if so, what is the game that is being played between him and the other twelve men, each with his own agenda?”

“If I have learned one thing from experience, it is this: Never underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is to understand a situation from an other person’s point of view.” (p. 622)


I am amazed at the skill with which Eleanor Catton has woven The Luminaries, a novel which even up to page 746 (of 830) has me guessing at supposed motives and the outcome of events. Is it a mystery? Yes. 
Is it a finely crafted novel exquisitely written? Yes. 
Is it any surprise that it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize? No.
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19 thoughts on “The Luminaries

  1. I've been curious about this book but it's just too thick an obstacle. Thanks for your review. At least I know it's a worthy read. I'm sure… a potential movie? Thanks for posting, Bellezza.

  2. I got the book for $2 from the bookshelves of the Friends of the Library at the entrance of the county library where every book is $2.
    Today January 27 and first page of The Luminaries showed the story started on January 27. Of course the year was 1866.

    I have to put aside Doris Lessings's the Golden Notebook.

  3. I'm so happy for you to find it for $2.00! My edition was from the library because I've got to stop buying books. Soon! Anyway, I could never get into The Golden Notebook, even though it's so famous, but the Luminaries is mesmerizing. Let's talk when you're done. I feel I could read a second time even though I finished it yesterday.

  4. And, my friend, you will need a lot of time if you read like I do: carefully. Not only is the page count high, but keeping track of the characters and their motives/actions is a bit…complicated? Multi-layered for sure. But, I found it very worth every minute. I will be thinking about it for a long time, and probably will reread it again this year.

  5. I can't imagine how it would work as a movie…you probably could, though. It's so complicated it would take a master director to get every little detail correct. I'm not even sure how the author did it! It is a worthy read, though, as so well executed it almost comes off as a movie in one's mind.

  6. I hate it when that happens! I “let” Never Walk in Circles (I think that was in the title) expire and now I see it in the best of lists everywhere! This will take time, though, so if you want to read it perhaps start, um, now? :)

  7. I really think you should read it, Iliana. It would also be a great book to have has a read along, or book club, because there's so much to discuss. Ponder. Wonder about.

  8. Even though my edition was from the library, I'm seriously considering buying a copy of my own. The more I think about it, after reading it, the more entranced I am. I think it would be a worthy addition to (y)our library, Andi. Which is usually what I find to be the case with Man Booker awards.

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