Jill's Reviews > The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
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it was ok
bookshelves: netgalley, historical-fiction, mystery, literary-fiction, did-not-finish

This is the most cliched review you'll read today but:

Show, don't tell.

Like come on, guys! To know this axiom is to have completed the third grade. And yet there are authors--acclaimed and published authors--who do not abide by it. Such is Eleanor Catton.

I didn't finish the book, but I'm hoping someone posts a spoilerish summary soon because in terms of plot and setting, the story is great. Any combination of these ideas--19th Century New Zealand Gold Rush Opium Murder Whore--is bound to be entertaining. But the story is weighed down by overwrought description. There are descriptions enduring dozens of paragraphs about a character's personality. Don't tell me who someone is; show me through clever use of anecdotes and dialogue.

Catton can write circles around almost everyone (seriously: she maintains a Dickensian English throughout the entire tome), but until she learns the cardinalest of cardinal rules of writing, I will not be reading her work.
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Reading Progress

August 13, 2013 – Shelved
August 13, 2013 – Shelved as: netgalley
August 13, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
September 22, 2013 – Started Reading
September 22, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
September 22, 2013 – Shelved as: mystery
September 22, 2013 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
September 29, 2013 –
page 200
23.58% "I don't know why or how but this book feels almost amateur to me? It's like someone threw together fancy Victorian prose and a somewhat gimmicky astronomical frame and expected to fool everyone that that meant it was good."
October 7, 2013 – Shelved as: did-not-finish
October 9, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)

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message 1: by Leanne (new)

Leanne Did you get this from NetGalley?! I was tragically rejected.


Jill Yup. It looks interesting but I'm starting to regret requesting it. It's looooooooong. It will be a big investment for a book that I don't even know is good.


message 3: by Leanne (new)

Leanne I think it will be good...I'll probably buy it when it actually comes out. Being from Canada is so inconvenient with these things - I've had so many rejections from not being from the US/UK!


Jill Aw, really? I would have assumed the US and Canada got lumped together. My American books always have the Canadian prices on the back.


message 5: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Oh dear you got this from NG? How the hell did I miss it? :( The authoress is the youngest Booker shortlistee in history.


Jill I picked it up on a whim, and I'm even more excited to read it after she made the shortlist! What do you think her chances are? From what I've read, she's one of the favorites along with Jim Crace, whom I do not know...

Also--I haven't started it yet, but paging through, it seems very ambitious. Written in Dickensian English with astronomical charts at the beginning of every chapter.


message 7: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Jill wrote: "I picked it up on a whim, and I'm even more excited to read it after she made the shortlist! What do you think her chances are? From what I've read, she's one of the favorites along with Jim Crace,..."

That sounds right up my alley. I hope NG approves or else I'll have to buy. I am not sure of her chances of winning but I suppose Jhumpa Lahiri will be another worthy contender, given The Lowland has been receiving rave reviews throughout.


message 8: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita YAY! Will wait for your review.


message 9: by Leanne (new)

Leanne How is it?!?


message 10: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill I like it a lot; it's basically the only thing that's getting me through these first tumultuous days in France. Very mysterious with an interesting setting.


message 11: by Leanne (new)

Leanne Uh oh, that sounds potentially interesting but also potentially bad...PM update?


message 12: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Oh no, France isn't bad! Just trying to open a bank account, get phone/internet is hard enough in English; it's beyond trying in French. I'll post more updates once I get Wifi. I have to go to McDonalds (which is like really really swanky in Europe?) to get free internet.

But as for The Luminaries, I've read a bit more and I'm liking it less now...the author describes EVERYTHING. A one minute conversation takes dozens of pages to get through.


David - proud Gleeman in Branwen's adventuring party Sorry this wasn't better, unfortunately, sometimes an author can be amazingly talented but still fall into those literary traps that hamper their work (i.e. tell not show, Mary Sues, etc...) :( Hope your next book is much more satisfying!


message 14: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill David Green - Proud member of Team Perry! wrote: "Sorry this wasn't better, unfortunately, sometimes an author can be amazingly talented but still fall into those literary traps that hamper their work (i.e. tell not show, Mary Sues, etc...) :( H..."

What surprises me is how these talented authors don't recognize these elementary weaknesses in their work! Cheers for hoping for a better next book. That's the eternal hope of all bibliophiles, non?


message 15: by Scarlet (new) - added it

Scarlet I think Catton is the youngest writer ever to feature in the Booker shortlist. So maybe her work will only improve over the years?
I looked up some reviews that quote passages and the prose style was good, but the boring kind of good, and I honestly cannot imagine myself enduring that for 800 pages -_-


message 16: by Caroline (new)

Caroline "[...]until she learns the cardinalest of cardinal rules of writing, I will not be reading her work."

Nor will I. This kind of thing drives me absolutely nuts, as does OVERWROUGHT WRITING!

Thank you for the warning. If an author expects her reader to stick with her story for 800 pages, she should make absolutely sure it's 800 pages of pure gold.


message 17: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Scarlet wrote: "the boring kind of good"

There's such a thing?

J/k. Ikwym.


message 18: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Scarlet: I'm interested in the Booker results. I never seem to like the award-winning books as this experience attests to. Also yes! Authors, why do you write so many 800 page books??? More and more I'm starting to believe shorter is better.

Caroline: I'm so tired of overwrought writing. There's a tendency to equate complexity with quality, but when it comes to writing, that's rarely true. The most profound truths are often written in the simplest language.


message 19: by Caroline (new)

Caroline "There's a tendency to equate complexity with quality[...]"

Yup, and also a tendency to equate complexity with intelligence, and that's simply untrue. So often when I read overwrought writing I think the writer is trying too hard to sound educated and well-read. There's nothing "lesser" about writing straightforwardly and clearly; the intelligence is in the message and depth of thought. Additionally, I've read so much CLEAR, CRISP writing that is far and away more breathtaking than much "overwritten" prose.


message 20: by Leanne (new)

Leanne This just came in on hold from the library - should I cancel it? It's either that or bring it on the cruise...and it's a little hefty. You know how I feel about long books, but I'm talking more like 500-600. 800+ is even getting to be a little much for me!


message 21: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Ah I'd avoid this too then. NG rejected my request anyway. Besides 800+ pages is a bit too much.


message 22: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Leanne: I'd probably not read it, especially on a vacation. I tried reading it as my travel book and I think that if I were ever to enjoy reading it, it would have been a nightstand book that I read a few pages from every night for over a month.

Samadrita: if this wins the Booker I'm going to wonder if maybe in the 800 pages there was something amazing I missed by not finishing it. And yet, I believe a book should not win an award if you have to sift through it like an archaeological site to find one measly treasure. I demand not instant but relatively quick gratification


message 23: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Jill wrote: "I believe a book should not win an award if you have to sift through it like an archaeological site to find one measly treasure. I demand not instant but relatively quick gratification"

TRUTH.

Leanne, in my humble opinion, this doesn't sound like cruise reading. You'd be better off with something, like, well...heck, like what I'm reading right now: American Gods. I don't think I saw it on your TBR, but I think it's something you would like, and it'd be a great vacation book.


message 24: by Scarlet (new) - added it

Scarlet So this won the Booker. Apparently, it was "the maturity and poise" that did it :/


message 25: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Scarlet wrote: "So this won the Booker. Apparently, it was "the maturity and poise" that did it :/"

NOOOOOO! Wow, really?? My dear. There probably is tons of maturity and poise; it's just buried around page 612.


message 26: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita She broke so many records. This is the longest novel to be ever awarded the Booker and she is youngest winner to boot.

Damn! Now maybe I have to read this after all.


message 27: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Ha, I love how none of us want to read this and yet we're so intrigued as to why it's been so acclaimed.

If you do read it Samadrita, you know I'll be dying for your review. I feel like I failed this book but I suspect the book just failed me.


message 28: by Scarlet (new) - added it

Scarlet @Jill: Haha! I did read somewhere that the book becomes "irresistible" in the second half so maybe you're right ;)

@Sama: If you do read it, please post a summary. I think I'll enjoy that a lot more than trudging through so many pages of dictionary-esque writing.


message 29: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Jill wrote: "Ha, I love how none of us want to read this and yet we're so intrigued as to why it's been so acclaimed.

If you do read it Samadrita, you know I'll be dying for your review. I feel like I failed t..."


Of course, Jill. We can never appreciate all the universally acclaimed books or even classics. People are entitled to their opinions. Always.
Nearly every one on GR loves David Mitchell but I am currently not much impressed with his writing and I definitely don't see what's so great about his interconnected snippets.

But I suppose I ought to give Catton a shot, just to see what all the fuss is about.


message 30: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita @Scarlet:-Sure thing. I don't think I have the heart to tackle such a tome this year though. All the more since I intend to start with either The Brothers Karamazov or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall within December. So maybe early next year.


message 31: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Jill, check out this review (originally published in The Washington Post) of the book: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog...


message 32: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Caroline wrote: "Jill, check out this review (originally published in The Washington Post) of the book: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog......"

Interesting. It's funny--I agree with every point he makes but I had the opposite reaction to them; they made me want to stop reading.


message 33: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Yeah, as good as I found his review, it doesn't entice me to read the book; it makes the book sound far too complicated, and I greatly dislike books with too many characters. No book should require you to take notes.

On a side note, have you read anything by Chris Bohjalian? I read his Midwives and loved it. I think you might really enjoy it too. It is very well told and quite suspenseful. I have several of his other books on my TBR.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes! See, I didn't mind the description, but I wish it'd been pared down just a little so as not to get in the way of the plot. I'm struggling with the third chapter!


message 35: by Cathy (last edited May 29, 2014 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Cathy Miller Giving up on this BORING, pretentious book after about 150 pages.


message 36: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Cathy wrote: "Giving up on this BORING, pretentious, book after about 150 pages."

wooo! good for you, Cathy! I gave it up and never looked back.


message 37: by Kate (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kate Cudahy I think with all due respect you may have missed the point. The reason why Catton is telling and not showing is because that is how 19th century novels functioned. You could also accuse her of headhopping - another cardinal sin of 21st c writing. But as she's opted for the 19th c Dickensian narrative style, it makes sense here.


message 38: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Kate wrote: "I think with all due respect you may have missed the point. The reason why Catton is telling and not showing is because that is how 19th century novels functioned. You could also accuse her of head..."

Nah, I get that. Doesn't mean I have to like it, however.


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