All That Glitters

Even with a busy schedule, I can generally get through my library book in my allotted two weeks. If I'm especially swamped or the book is dense, I may need to renew it once to get myself a few extra days. In the case of Eleanor Catton's epic 2013 novel, The Luminaries, I had to renew it twice. This book clocks in at 848 pages, and when a book stretches on for that long, it had better be worth it.

The Luminaries is set in the coast of New Zealand in 1866. A gold rush has struck the country, and everyone is trying to make his or her fortune in one way or another. Walter Moody arrives one night and inadvertently interrupts a secret meeting of twelve men who are attempting to figure out the mystery of a wealthy prospector who has vanished, an apparently suicidal prostitute with ties to just about everyone in town, and a dead hermit who seems to have drank himself to death, but whose hovel contains untold riches that nobody can trace to the source.

The men weave together a tale for Mr. Moody, who joins their little club to help solve these mysteries. The novel has an astronomical/astrological theme in the background, and the characters' fortunes rise and fall as steadily as the moon changes phase.

Though this wasn't a story that required 848 pages to tell, the story hums along at a pretty good pace. I was never bored, and all of the characters had plenty of time to be fully developed; I could easily envisage the society that the combination of these personalities would produce. By the midway point, I was as interested in learning what was behind the mysterious circumstances as the characters were.

That said, the book is far more interested in exploring the motivations that drive people than how that gold got into the hermit's cabin, and I liked that. Sometimes I want to delve more into character than plot, and Catton does an admirable job at filling in the world she's created. I don't know that this is a book I'd recommend to everyone, and perhaps it was a bit of a slog by the end, but in general, I'd give it a thumbs up. Or I would if my digits weren't so cramped from turning all those pages.

The Luminaries: B


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