You’ve just finished The Luminaries

Hey thanks goodreads! But here’s what I’m going to do next: take a big old lie down and probably not read any fiction for a while. Phew! I finished The Luminaries! I can’t quite believe it. 835 pages…

I’ve been trying to read this big book since about 2016 and I made a big dent into it on a summer holiday back then (fortunately the Kindle version as even the paperback is a hefty tome). But I never continued. And it’s such a well-woven tale that it rewards compulsive reading. At times the pace is galloping-fast, and it requires the reader to juggle the back stories and motives of the 12-15 main characters in one’s head all the while. This may not be a huge ask for a fiction fan, but I just… don’t tend to read fiction books. I’ll hoover up a good memoir, and I love to rattle through a diary at whatever pace the writer sets. But fiction is just something I find hard to get inside somehow. Maybe it’s the suspension of disbelief, or simply the ever-present knowledge that this is all made up. So it’s the mark of a very good book indeed that holds my attention. Plus, The Luminaries is about three times as long as any novel I’ve read before. So kudos indeed to Eleanor Catton.

Despite making a start a few years ago, I just had to start over this time, but I’m glad I did. Reading it in about a month was the right thing to do. Plus, I was spurred on by the recent BBC broadcast of the TV adaptation of the book. I caught the first episode, and they seem to have got the setting and general feel just right. The bit that threw me was the chronology, and so I knew I wanted to experience the book for myself, and get wrapped up in its slightly surreal world, and then I could go back to the TV adaptation and (hopefully) enjoy it on its own merits.

I knew I’d enjoy the book: I love the setting (New Zealand’s early settlements of Dunedin and Hokitika) and the infrastructure that 1860s NZ provides (newspapers, shipping records, gold mining, scarce personal records). The facilities provided by the National Library of New Zealand for wallowing in that world are superb: Papers Past is an incredibly rich and useable archive of newspapers of that time and place. I’ve been a fan of it for years now. I know that Catton used Papers Past and a number of other resources while writing this book: her acknowledgments at the end are interesting and amusing. And being able to go and bring up full copies of the West Coast Times from the 1860s and read the news and see the adverts is such a weirdly exhilerating feeling and extension of the intrigue of having read this book.

It’s just so cool.

Anyway. I’m so glad I got to the end of this book. It’s given me a ton to think about. And I’m looking forward to binge-watching the TV adaptation. And then seeing what roads it leads me down in terms of further reading. But I think it’ll be non-fiction for a while yet.

PS: One of the things I was looking forward to, having finished the book, was reading Patrick’s thoughts on it. I respect his opinion on books and videogames, and love his review writing. I was not disappointed. Patrick notes:

I enjoyed the book almost without reservation, both as a piece of entertainment and a work of art; and as a work of dedication and craftsmanship, it has left me spellbound with admiration.

And I must say I have to agree. I recommend his review if you want to understand more about the structure of the book than I could ever attempt to explain.