Monday, November 25, 2013

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Me, in a pub in Greymouth,
133 years later and just a
little north of Hokitika, the
setting of The Luminaries.
I most certainly agree with the judges of the Man Booker and the Canadian Governor General awards: Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is a winner. Because of its size, I kept it at work and read it during my lunch and coffee breaks. It's taken nearly three weeks to get through it, but I looked forward to every moment spent within the world of the goldrush on New Zealand's South Island. It is a delightfully rewarding book.

The Luminaries is big in every way, not just in its 832 page count. There's a large cast of memorable characters, a devilishly complex plot, a great amount of dialogue (that charmed me with period language such as lucifers [early matches], spills [twists of paper for lighting fires], whatnots [small tables], and clews [metal loops]), and a setting made vivid with details.

I could imagine what it would be like in the gaolor's house:

"the gaoler ushered everyone from the room and pulled the door closed, causing the hallway to shiver. The interior walls of the gaoler's house were made of patterned calico that had been stretched tight and tacked to the building's frame, and when the timber creaked in the wind, or was disturbed by a heavy footfall or the sudden slam of a door, the walls all quivered and rippled, like the surface of a pool --"

A young man, when asked how he likes Hokitika, responds:

"I like it very well indeed. It's a perfect hive of contradictions! There is a newspaper, and no coffee house in which to read it; there is a druggist for prescriptions, but one can never find a doctor, and the hospital barely deserves its name. The store is always running out of either boots or socks, but never both at once, and all the hotels along Revell-street only serve breakfast, though they do so at all hours of the day!"

The entire narrative neatly balances opposites, creating a harmonious whole. I like it very well indeed.

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