21st Century Literature discussion

The Luminaries
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2014 Book Discussions > The Luminaries - Book as a Whole [SPOILERS] (May 2014)

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Daniel For discussion of the entire book. What were your final impressions?


message 2: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2309 comments I did not vote for this book and had too many other books to read (getting those on the 18 books on the finalists list for the One Book selection committee) to fit this one in May. But, I was looking forward to reading the comments to see if an interest in the book might be triggered. Given the dearth of comments on this book, that has not happened. I'd like to hear from those who voted for it as to what triggered thier vote.


Dree | 15 comments I didn't vote for this book--I read it in December after waiting in the library queue for awhile.

I loved it! I read it in a week. I loved the characters and how different they were, I loved all of the different things going on, and the connections. I love complicated story lines like this, so it was right up my alley.

I admit I didn't really get the astrology bits, like all the diagrams at the chapter breaks. I assume there was another layer there if you get that stuff. I don't get it or know much about it to help me understand. Or maybe it just looked nice?

I also did some online reading on New Zealand's gold rush. I am very familiar with California Gold Rush history and have read about Alaska's, but I didn't even know there had been a rush in NZ...


Daniel Dree: I didn't get the astrology bits either, but I found they added a certain thread of consistency (perhaps uniqueness? mood? tone?) which made the story seem part of a larger whole. It also fits the era quite well, considering the faddish obsession with the supernatural in that time. Nice to hear that another person didn't necessarily get it, but yet still managed to appreciate it in some intangible way.

Linda: Dearth of comments indeed. I don't know if that's on account of summer beginning for many of us, or whether life is just getting out of control for some (which is certainly my case). I do agree, though, that it would be nice to hear from some voters as to why they selected this book.


Kristina (kristina3880) I really liked this book and I am super jealous that Dree read it in a week. That is awesome!! I had to renew the book and wait in the Queue three times before finishing it. I am a slug when it comes to reading.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I didn't really get the Astrology bits either, but I assumed they must mean something about events being controlled or guided by fate. I enjoyed the book without worrying about how characters signs might relate to the story.


Angie Reisetter | 9 comments I read this book last December, so I didn't vote for it to be selected, but I really enjoyed it. I was hoping that others would comment enough to help me remember the character names (I'm terrible with names, and was hoping not to embarrass myself) before I commented. But I'll go ahead and embarrass myself, I guess.

I didn't understand the astrology charts, and they were a little gimmicky, but they were incorporated in the end. Lydia, although she is certainly a charlatan, realized the first day she met them that Anna and her lover (the rich dude everyone thought was dead but wasn't) had their fates inextricably intertwined. They were born on the same day at the same momemt, under the same stars. So that astrology link lent a pathos to their love story, and the charts throughout the book bring home that it's their love that is really central to the novel, even though it doesn't seem a love story at the outset.

The story-telling style was old school, not overly poetic, no magical realism, and no real identification with any individual character. So in that sense, it's 19th-century style. I thought it was well done and enjoyed it (but then, I do like 19th century literature). And the masculine settings, the overwhelming maleness of the place made me think about the oil rush that's going on now in North Dakota, how reports are that men dominate the population in many towns now, how even in small towns it's not safe for women anymore, how prostitution has become more common. These settings lend themselves to a certain type of story not unlike the Luminaries.

Anyway, overall I really loved this book as a straight-up story. Most of the denouement is excessive, and I understand why some people didn't love it, but I thought it was masterful.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Angie, I had forgotten (or never really focused on) the bit about Anna and Emery having fates that were inextricably intertwined because of their shared time of birth. Thanks for reminding me of that.


Angie Reisetter | 9 comments Now that I'm thinking about it, the book could be characterized as the fated clash of two great love stories, the good one (Anna and Emery) and the bad one (Lydia and the scarred bad guy that's her husband) -- they do terrible things but they are undoubtedly in love. The bad one seems in control most of the story until they are defeated in the end. The good guys, Anna and Emery, seem like victims, blown around by fate, but they're victorious in the end.

So I guess I would characterize this book as a big, complicated love story.


message 10: by Kai (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kai Coates (southernbohemian) | 24 comments Angie wrote: "The story-telling style was old school, not overly poetic, no magical realism, and no real identification with any individual character. So in that sense, it's 19th-century style. I thought it was well done and enjoyed it (but then, I do like 19th century literature). And the masculine settings, the overwhelming maleness of the place made me think about the oil rush that's going on now in North Dakota, how reports are that men dominate the population in many towns now, how even in small towns it's not safe for women anymore, how prostitution has become more common. These settings lend themselves to a certain type of story not unlike the Luminaries."

I thought it did feature magical realism. On the fateful night Anna and Emery spent together, they became linked physically. Anna smokes opium and it has no effect on her, but Emery becomes addicted. Anna eats and wastes away, yet Emery who is lost in the wild with no food survives. Anna shoots herself and the bullet turns up in Emery. I think the court explanation only superficially answered the questions, when the real explanation was much more mystical.


Sandra | 114 comments I read this a while ago so i have forgotten names etc. But I read somewhere that the original 12 characters correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Then theres the whole thing with each chapter being half the pages of the preceding chapter. Which IMHO was gimmicky and did not really work. It made the first chapter too damn long and confusing because too much material was presented before you were sure who was who.

But I did enjoy the book as it kept you guessing and was a rollicking good story.


Angie Reisetter | 9 comments Kai wrote: "Angie wrote: "The story-telling style was old school, not overly poetic, no magical realism, and no real identification with any individual character. So in that sense, it's 19th-century style. I t..."

You're absolutely right. I think it's very mystical, the connection between the two of them. I guess I got out ahead of my understanding. I was referring to the language and style of narration used, without the flowery, poetic language I tend to associate with magical realism.


message 13: by Kai (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kai Coates (southernbohemian) | 24 comments Angie, I agree with you about enjoying the old-fashioned language. I thought it added a lot to the book's atmosphere.

Sandra, I didn't even notice the page thing!


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Welcome, Chevrefeuille. Discussions remain open indefinitely, so it is fine to comment on past books, and usually there are still other people interested in discussing it. I loved the Luminaries. I read it back in January and discussed it in another group and enjoyed that discussion. By May, when this group discussed it, I didn't remember details well. I tried to reread it, and I enjoyed that as far as I got, but, 800 pages, so many books, so little time.

I think I disagree with you about the notion of the villain being out of favor now. I looked back at the list of the last thirty or so books I have read, and most of them had a clear villain. I had not realized until you pointed it out, though, that "the narrator often comments extensively on the characters’ moral and ethical principles (or lack thereof) & their personalities, there is only silence when it comes to Carver – we get a description of his actions, but no explanation." That is an interesting observation. Many books now do have morally ambiguous villains, and give us more of the villain's point of view, even if the villain is deluded and psychotic. But the Luminaries does not stand alone on this point. Last month the group read Invisible by Paul Auster. The book has many levels of ambiguity, but there is a clear villain, and we are not shown his point of view.

The Luminaries is a good illustration of a problem that comes up in this group from time to time. We waited a while to discuss it so it would be more easily available to people who depend on libraries. There were horror stories about how far down the waiting list some people were when they tried to get this book in January. Also, we were concerned that the length (800 pages) would limit the number of people reading. By waiting, though, I think we may have lost participation from people who had read the book months earlier. The Luminaries is a rich and detailed tapestry, and while you are in the middle of it, it is fun to discuss and speculate about. But after a few months, the details get fuzzy and it gets harder to remember how you felt when you were reading the book. We are still looking for an answer to this dilemma.


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