Maureen Jansen's Reviews > The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
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it was ok

I'm a New Zealander like the author. Everyone here is raving about this book including people who write great novels themselves. I'm feeling pretty miserable about the fact that I couldn't get into it, forced myself to read halfway, started again and then gave up in despair. I liked the beginning, started to identify with the first character, Moody, then lost the plot when the other 14 or so main characters took over the story. The faux 19th century style felt slightly forced and the sentences were, for me, indigestible.

After reading the first quarter of the book I have a vivid picture in my mind of Hokitika in the 1860s. I like that about it. At the same time it doesn't ring true that the leading lights in a pioneer community would care so deeply about the death of a hermit and apparent attempted suicide of a prostitute. There was a sameness to the dialogue that didn't ring true to me either. Sure, I haven't read any 19th century novels for a long time and have forgotten the style. Whatever the cause, this book didn't enable me to suspend my disbelief.

I usually find that challenging novels pay me back for the effort I put into reading them. I gain insights, I identify with the characters, I experience a different part of the world. The Luminaries is so plot-based that it didn't give me that payback.

As for the astrological aspect of the novel, I just didn't get it and the book didn't inspire me to delve into it.

I don't feel good writing this about a fellow kiwi's great accomplishment. I suspect a lot of my difficulties stem from the mystery/detective elements in this novel: just not my cup of tea. I was more suited as a reader to Emily Perkins' The Forrests, another long and challenging NZ novel but more character-based.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 14, 2013 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)

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Jennifer aw, if it helps you feel any better, maureen, i am with you in the 'meh' department. my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... like you, i felt a bit discombobulated being of a differing opinion amidst the rave reviews and booker nomination love. many of the criticisms you raise are points i share too.


Maureen Jansen Thanks Jennifer. That is some comfort. Right now I'm reading We Need New Names (also shortlisted) and loving it. Maybe I am a true blue novel reader after all:)


message 3: by Bravegirl01 (new) - added it

Bravegirl01 I haven't read the book yet, but it took me a couple of tries before I could get into Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- in fact, I only finished it in the end because I read "Bring Up The Bodies" next & then went back to the first book. Additionally, her break-through book "a Place of Greater Safety," about the French Revolution, is still languishing on my Kindle. Sometimes the successful completion of a book has to do with my mood when I'm reading, rather than any intrinsic worth of the book itself. And also, it depends on why we read in the first place. Sometimes I don't want to work at a book; I just want to disappear into the story, effortlessly.


message 4: by Bravegirl01 (new) - added it

Bravegirl01 I haven't read the book yet, but it took me a couple of tries before I could get into Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- in fact, I only finished it in the end because I read "Bring Up The Bodies" next & then went back to the first book. Additionally, her break-through book "a Place of Greater Safety," about the French Revolution, is still languishing on my Kindle. Sometimes the successful completion of a book has to do with my mood when I'm reading, rather than any intrinsic worth of the book itself. And also, it depends on why we read in the first place. Sometimes I don't want to work at a book; I just want to disappear into the story, effortlessly.


message 5: by Bravegirl01 (new) - added it

Bravegirl01 I haven't read the book yet, but it took me a couple of tries before I could get into Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- in fact, I only finished it in the end because I read "Bring Up The Bodies" next & then went back to the first book. Additionally, her break-through book "a Place of Greater Safety," about the French Revolution, is still languishing on my Kindle. Sometimes the successful completion of a book has to do with my mood when I'm reading, rather than any intrinsic worth of the book itself. And also, it depends on why we read in the first place. Sometimes I don't want to work at a book; I just want to disappear into the story, effortlessly.


message 6: by Bravegirl01 (new) - added it

Bravegirl01 Apologies for the triple posts -- I kept getting error msgs telling me the G'reads' servers were slow & I should try again.


Maureen Jansen That's an insightful comment, Bravegirl. I think I was in the wrong mood to read The Luminaries. Sometimes I just need some light Young Adult fiction. However, I gave it a really good go - twice - and had high expectations. I wanted to like it. There seemed to be a voice in my head saying, this is mostly plot, this is not believable,the dialogue is so bad. I believe people criticised The Rehearsal for being too "mannered". Maybe the artifice of it, the postmodern nature of it made it hard for me to swallow.


message 8: by Janardhanan (new)

Janardhanan Hello Maureen, Where did you read this book? online? I searched for it but in vain


Maureen Jansen Janardhanan wrote: "Hello Maureen, Where did you read this book? online? I searched for it but in vain"
I bought it in a bookshop here in NZ where they are fast running out of copies due to the Booker win:)


message 10: by Maureen (last edited Oct 22, 2013 04:11PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Maureen Jansen Bravegirl01 wrote: "Apologies for the triple posts -- I kept getting error msgs telling me the G'reads' servers were slow & I should try again."
Goodreads software isn't always easy! I replied below but not using reply so you might not have seen it. I didn't like Wolf Hall because of the irritating use of "he" but I really loved "Bring Up the Bodies". So yes, WH was another Booker winner I didn't like but its universal acclaim didn't surprise me as much as The Luminaries.


message 11: by Stella (new)

Stella Hemming Thanks Maureen. Actually, not everyone liked it. Here's a link to C K Sttead's review in the Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/c46577... I like Wilkie Collins but Ellie's pastische I found a total waste of time, intellectual and emotional. She is a very intelligent and talented woman; I hope and pray she will meet editors and mentors who will direct her formidable talents away from "dress-ups" and from the curse of the Creative Writing course into real fiction that is somehow adequate to the tensions, tragedies and triumphs of this present age.


Maureen Jansen Stella wrote: "Thanks Maureen. Actually, not everyone liked it. Here's a link to C K Sttead's review in the Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/c46577... I like Wilkie..."

Yes, indeed. I've seen a couple of comments on the way creative writing courses go in for "recipes" much like the astrological framework of this book. I must also delve into the meaning of pastiche. Enjoyed Sarah Waters' Victorian novels. Adored Wilkie Collins when I was young, loved Dickens and Trollope etc and am now rereading Middlemarch. It's so much easier to read than The Luminaries and rewards the reader from the first line with character insights and social comment. The dialogue matches the character. this did not happen in The Luminaries.

Agree with you about Catton's talent!

CK Stead is a bit of a curmudgeon but I see that fellow kiwi Kirsty Gunn refers to it as brilliant but a "big empty bag."


message 13: by Cas (new)

Cas I agree with you. I feel guilty about not liking it or enjoying it. I am still trying....


Marie Thomas I have just finished reading 'The Luminaries' and I agree with all the above, though I don't think anyone should feel ashamed or embarrassed about not liking/getting it etc.,
I found the whole thing very frustrating and many times I put it down in anger only to try again but it never grabbed me, too long, too many characters and they all pretty much lacked depth. I love to be challenged but this novel just didn't cut it for me. I was bitterly disappointed at the abrupt ending which I felt had been rushed. Someone mentioned Hilary Mantell's, now there is a writer who I could read forever, she delivers on all levels. We can only hope that Eleanor Catton will grow into her art and be that good. I too am a kiwi.


message 15: by Rachael (new) - added it

Rachael Kelly I was given it for christmas and ive put it aside for the same readons - and i feel bad about it! Maybe im not in the frame of mind for it - im determined to give it another go though!


Maureen Jansen Guess what, people! I picked up the book again and started from over half way through when Moody recaps the stories told him by the 12 men. After that the chapters get ever shorter and the style seems less twee. The letters between Crosbie Wells and Lauderback perked me up as did the emerging love story between Anna and Emery. At this time the fractured time frame seemed clever and effective as the story wove present and recent past together as many (post) modern books do. Gone were the long, dry stories of the men and into the book came some real narrative sparkle. There was more of Walter Moody and a pretty good court case. The murder mystery was still a bit of a pain and I'm still not sure who did what to whom ... will need to reread in a continuous manner. But the innocence and sweetness of the two lovers and the way the lengthy tome narrows down to their story does make me begin to understand why the book won the prize.

Below is a good bad review from London Evening Standard
http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/l...


Donna Kusuda WOW, I feel less like a loser for struggling with this book. It gets so repetitive and is very fragmented and disjointed. It is the story that will never end. I am half way thru and will probably hang in there out of pure curiosity if nothing else, but this book takes a lot of work to read.


Rochelle I am also a kiwi and JUST finished reading a couple of minutes ago and just wrote my review. I too felt bad putting down the book in my review but it really was a difficult book to read and I forced myself not to give up hoping it would get better. The letters from Crosbie to Lauderback did pique my interest but it soon deflated again


message 19: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Maureen....you have inspired me to persevere. I am tired of the rain and the stilted language.......on my second attempt, having read the Goldfinch in between. Will try to finish. BTW Harvest by Jim Crace is a booker loser ....the language is delicious though the tale is harsh.


message 20: by Therese (new)

Therese Well, a kiwi lady writer, resident in Sydney, recently passed her copy of this novel on to me - saying that with the best will in the world, she could not get interested enough to finish it.


Stewart Black Spot on Maureen. I only differ from you in one respect. I couldn't imagine starting again. I gave up half way through without compunction. But the thought of trying to digest this stodgy uninspired mush a second time gives me heartburn.


message 22: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Stewart.....your heartburn is contagious. I'm bored and floored and done. Not even a five hour British airways flight delay could force me to finish it now.


message 23: by Mags (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mags Delaney Thank yo for making me feel better Maureen! I usually devour books over a couple of days ... this one I was prepared for a week of ... 3 months later the end is almost in sight ... true I have been side tracked by other things but usually I'd still be reading too. I like the idea, the characters but it takes so long for things to get going because of ( I love how you phrased it ) 'indigestible sentences' ! I was made to feel that I was a whinging pom who didn't understand either language or Kiwi history at my book group (I am a pom living in NZ btw) by some of the more 'literary' members. It's a good story just more overcomplicated than it needs to be .... Its not really made me want to read any other books by the author though,


Stewart Black Alexandra wrote: "Stewart.....your heartburn is contagious. I'm bored and floored and done. Not even a five hour British airways flight delay could force me to finish it now."
Glad I'm not alone!


message 25: by Jeannette (new) - added it

Jeannette Cooke I'm one of the lucky ones, not having any problems being drawn in to this amazing story. The skill of Eleanor is awesome. My recommendation - give it another go!


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

I'll check out Emily Perkins - I'm always on the lookout for great novels written by Aussies and Kiwis. I hope I enjoy this more than you did, though, because I'm rather interested in the beginning but am finding it slow going even on audio.


Caroline Mckean It's an accomplishment, to be sure, but... I feel that it was selfish with my time. The story could have been told far more economically, and there is a skill in 'keeping it tight'. I feel exhausted, ripped off and, unmoved by the characters, the plot, and the themes. I felt like I was watching a play unfold, with cardboard sets, and period costumes: I never believed what I was reading. I would like to read some of the shortlisted books, now, though, as I realise so am more curious about what the Booker Prize board was thinking, then the story at hand...


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Exactly. I had to abandon it after seven or eight chapters, because it was far too slow-paced for me.


message 29: by Yaa (new)

Yaa I've been to New Zealand and it's the worst place ever.


message 30: by Ryan (new) - added it

Ryan Oh, my gosh, how dare you say that about New Zealand!


message 31: by Yaa (new)

Yaa So sorry, I left my account open and someone hacked it; I love all things New Zealand!


message 32: by Ryan (new) - added it

Ryan Yeah right, Yaa, I think that's enough.


message 33: by Jeannette (new) - added it

Jeannette Cooke New Zealand - aka God's Own Country. And it doesn't rain all the time!


Dennis Ritchie I agree.


message 35: by Yvette (new) - added it

Yvette Tetreault It is paining me to read this book. I started it in March when I visited New Zealand, I thought it would be fitting for my trip. I just can't get into it, and I feel better knowing I'm not the only one who just thinks it is so-so.


message 36: by Lance (new)

Lance Please don't despair. There will be other books.


message 37: by Jo (new) - rated it 1 star

Jo I tried twice but unlike you couldn't get past the first 20 pages ! I am also an astrology buf, so it should have been right up my alley ???


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