For my TBR Jar challenge of May, I had to read an award winning novel. As I was on a book buying ban, my choice was limited to the books I had on my shelf, only one of which had won an award. This book was ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.
The book itself is a mystery/crime novel set in New Zealand during the gold rush. Twelve men come together to solve three crimes seemingly connected – a death, a disappearance and an attempted suicide. It is told in multiple perspectives, exploring different sides of the story as each person saw it.
This use of multiple perspectives was particularly clever as it demonstrated that no one person has the whole truth – each person sees things differently, which made the truth of the matter very difficult to place. It was fascinating to read each character’s point of view and learn a bit more about them. It also added a sense of confusion to the plot; as a reader I was never quite sure which direction the book was taking or what the conclusion might possibly be.
The novel itself is very well-written with a complex grasp on plot and motive. All characters are flawed, each pursuing their own goals in their search for answers. The truth is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the novel, but despite these clues, neither the reader not the characters are able to piece them together fully so that the final solution is one that makes sense but is still a surprise.
However, despite its many strengths, ‘The Luminaries’ is not perfect. The main issue I had with it was the use of horoscopes and zodiacs to introduce each part of the novel as well as the number of descriptions regarding the stars. I could see no role that these played in the novel – plot or otherwise, beyond one character’s interest in fortune telling. The use of different timelines also proved a problem, especially at the end, as there was very little warning that the time had changed, beyond the date at the top of the page which, when the years were alternating rapidly, resulted in a tiresome exercise of working out when the section I was reading was taking place. The conclusion of the story also felt like it was tacked on at the end, revealed to the reader, but not the characters of the book. This felt like a let-down as the first half of the novel revolved around the characters trying to work out what was going on.
Otherwise, this was a really enjoyable book. The pacing was well done and I found myself getting engrossed in the story. I also really enjoyed how each section was half the length of the section before, which I can only imagine must have taken a lot of work and calculations to achieve. I would recommend reading it as, despite the length and problems I had with it, the book itself was one that I was able to sink into, with lyrical prose and an eclectic group of characters.