The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Catton, Eleanor - The Luminaries

When I go to a bookshop, I’m like a magpie in a field full of shiny things.  My cousin is the opposite; she buys books one at a time.  Last time we went to a bookshop together, of all the books that caught her eye she plumped for the longest on the grounds that it represented the best value for money.  Now I’m not recommending you base your choice of reading matter on thickness but if, like my cousin, you like lots of pages for your pound then you could do a lot worse than Catton’s Booker Prize winning novel – all 800 pages of it.

1866, Hokitika, New Zealand.  A town built on the promise of fortunes made in the surrounding gold-fields.  Twelve men meet in the Crown Hotel to share their knowledge of events leading up to three unsolved “crimes”, which all happened on the same night: the disappearance of a young gold digger, Emery Staines; the death of the hermit Crosbie Wells; and the attempted suicide of prostitute, Anna Wetherall.

A word of advice: read the physical book, not the e-book.  I read on the train to work and back so, despite already owning the paperback, to save lugging 800 pages around every day I bought the kindle edition.  At the front of both there’s a character list, useful in a novel where the number of characters reaches Russian-classic proportions.  It isn’t easy to flick backwards and forwards in a Kindle, though, and by page 340 (or 44% per the kindle) I was fast losing track of who was who and what was what.

So it was something of a relief when Walter Moody, a prospective prospector newly arrived in Hokitika, who stumbles into the Crown meeting by accident, “meditates on the mystery in hand.”  If I were a betting woman I’d wager there was an editorial hand behind this device, which provides a much needed précis of events, albeit one that is shoe-horned into the story.  After Walter’s re-cap, the characters and the plot clicked into place.  But, weight or no weight, I wish I’d begun with the paperback.

**** One of the best books I’ve read this year

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