The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is stellar and the 2013 Man Booker winner. Everyone has a story and Catton regales us with lots of stories woven into a magical novel. Walter Moody arrived in New Zealand in January 1866 on a barque, The Godspeed, that began with eight passengers arrived with nine and has further secrets aboard. He stayed in a hotel with twelve men who were meeting but didn’t want anyone to know. Moody was there to get rich in the goldmines. Catton sets the table beautifully as she divulges so much in so little time.
After reading the first chapter, I’m discovering that I am revisiting Thomas Hardy and George Eliot; a simple, innocent lie compounded is how it starts and undulates for hundreds of pages. The joy begins with the creation of Ted, the filling of the pipe and lighting it, the dialogue, opium pipes, gold, and whores make for fabulous reading. The book is addictive as I am charmed by the prose and the flow of the plot. The narrator controls the action, fills in blanks, and otherwise provides us with what we need to know when the narrator deems fit. Long stories abound. No long stories told short, no no no. In fact we hear the same story told from different perspectives. We know more than most characters, but not more than the omniscient narrator. “But our point has already been made; we ought to return to the scene at hand.” Follow Carver, but that’s obvious.
Ghosts? Sort of. More like heavenly bodies. Hint: Chapter titles have a zodiac spin. The narrator uses astrology as credible evidence. From one of the characters to another: “I have heard that in the New Zealand native tradition, the soul, when it dies, becomes a star.” A luminary. All energy is devoted for the séance being performed by the dead man’s widow. Surprises take over and in a novel like this, they are expected and cherished. The Chinese connection is a grand surprise. The letters of Crosbie Wells are brilliant. When twelve men plus one make an oath, how soon is that oath broken and how many times?
It will take a trial of the whore and her beau to flesh out the truth, whatever that may be. Which would you choose, Honesty or Loyalty? Once we step back into time this becomes the question, which affects the future.