The Luminaries

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The Luminaries
Theluminariescover.jpg
Author Eleanor Catton
Country New Zealand
Published 2013 (2013) Victoria University Press (New Zealand), Granta Books (UK), Little, Brown and Company (North America)
Awards 2013 Man Booker Prize
ISBN 978-1-84708-431-6
OCLC 851827301

The Luminaries is the second novel by Eleanor Catton,[1] published by Victoria University Press in August 2013[2] and Granta on 5 September 2013. On 15 October it was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize. It is the longest book (at 832 pages), and Catton the youngest author (at age 28), ever to win the award.[3]

Plot[edit]

The plot follows Walter Moody, a prospector who travels to the fledgling West Coast of the South Island settlement of Hokitika, near New Zealand's goldfields in 1866 to try and make his fortune. Instead he stumbles into a tense meeting between twelve local men, who draw him in to the complex mystery behind a series of unsolved crimes.[7] One of the protagonists is Anna Wetherell, a former opium-addicted Hokitika sex worker, who has had a previous affair with one Crosbie Wells, who may or may not be Francis Carver. Carver is pursued by Ah Sook, a Chinese immigrant, who wants vengeance for his father's loss of face and consequent death as a result of impaired border duties. Wells is married to hotel keeper Lydia Wells, who initially met Anna when she disembarked from a British passenger vessel at Port Chalmers. Following an affair with Crosbie Wells, Anna was expelled from her former Dunedin accommodation and forced into prostitution in Hokitika, as well as opium addiction. Anna was also pregnant with Wells' baby, but miscarried after a brutal beating. There are also questions about the authenticity of a new prospective Hokitika gold mine claim staked by newcomer Emery Staines, also opium-addicted. Rescued from her life of prostitution by a forgiving Lydia Wells, Anna then encounters Staines and falls in love with him. Ah Sook plans to attack Carver, but is stopped by Governor Shepard who kills him - claiming that he fired to prevent Ah Sook shooting Carver.[4]

Structure[edit]

Each of the twelve men who comprise the council in the first chapter of the book is associated with one of the twelve zodiac signs. The title of a chapter in which one of these men plays a major role is likely to contain that man's sign. The associations are as follows:

  • Te Rau Tauwhare (a greenstone hunter): Aries
  • Charlie Frost (a banker): Taurus
  • Benjamin Lowenthal (a newspaperman): Gemini
  • Edgar Clinch (an hotelier): Cancer
  • Dick Mannering (a goldfields magnate): Leo
  • Quee Long (a goldsmith): Virgo
  • Harald Nilssen (a commission merchant): Libra
  • Joseph Pritchard (a chemist): Scorpio
  • Thomas Balfour (a shipping agent): Sagittarius
  • Aubert Gascoigne (a justice's clerk): Capricorn
  • Sook Yongsheng (a hatter): Aquarius
  • Cowell Devlin (a chaplain): Pisces

The conventional characteristics associated with each sign serve as a skeleton upon which Catton builds to create full-fledged characters.[5] Te Rau Tauwhare is the only name on the list based on a real person; all others are fictional.[6]

Another set of characters is associated with heavenly bodies within the solar system.

Background and outlook[edit]

Aged 14, Catton and her father went on a tandem trip from their home in Christchurch over Arthur's Pass to the West Coast. This inspired her interest in the 1860s West Coast Gold Rush, and she started thinking about a story.[6] She spent much time in Hokitika while writing the book many years later.[7]

Catton returned to Hokitika in March 2014 for the first time since December 2012.[7] She gave a question and answer session at the Regent Theatre with her British publisher, Max Porter, in front of a sell-out crowd.[7] She revealed that she had used the Papers Past website of the National Library of New Zealand to find suitable names for her characters. With Balfour an unusual name during the time of the gold rush, it is assumed that Catton adopted the surname of the marine engineer James Balfour who did an assessment of the possibility for a port in Hokitika during the gold rush.[8]

British producer Andrew Woodhead is accompanying Catton, as he plans a TV series based on the book.[7] Catton said that she would insist on the series being produced on the West Coast, as the flora and fauna there are unique.[9]

Reception[edit]

The book has been met with critical acclaim[10][11] and has been described as "a dazzling feat of a novel" by The Observer. [12]

Justine Jordan, writing for The Guardian, also noted positively that Catton deftly organised her novel:

… according to astrological principles, so that characters are not only associated with signs of the zodiac, or the sun and moon (the "luminaries" of the title), but interact with each other according to the predetermined movement of the heavens, while each of the novel's 12 parts decreases in length over the course of the book to mimic the moon waning through its lunar cycle.[13]

As of August 2014, The Luminaries had sold 560,000 copies, of which 120,000 were sold in New Zealand.[14]

Awards and honours[edit]

The Luminaries won the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the Governor General's Award for English-language fiction in Canada.[15] It was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize (2014).[16] It was longlisted in Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (2014). It was cited as a Wall Street Journal "Best Fiction of 2013", Christian Science Monitor 15 best fiction of 2013 and Economist magazine's "Books of the Year" (2013).[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "BBC News - Man Booker Prize 2013: Toibin and Crace lead shortlist". BBC News. 10 September 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "VUP blog: And the winner is...". Victoria University Press. 16 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Masters, Tim (15 October 2013). "BBC News - Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries". BBC News. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Man Booker Prize synopsis". Man Booker Prize. 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton". A Case For Books. 21 October 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Mussen, Deidre (14 March 2014). "Booker prize novel 'comes home'". The Press. p. ?. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d Mussen, Deidre (13 March 2014). "Writer back in 'spiritual' home". The Press. p. A7. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Eleanor Catton back in Hokitika". The Press. 13 March 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  9. ^ "Luminaries setting gets Catton visit". The New Zealand Herald. 14 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "Booker prize shortlist sales dip as critical acclaim rises". The Guardian. 14 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Scholes, Lucy (8 September 2013). "The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – review". The Observer (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  12. ^ Jordan, Justine (15 October 2013). "Eleanor Catton asks novel questions with epic ambition in The Luminaries – review". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Knight, Kim (4 August 2014). "Eleanor Catton's stellar success". Stuff.co.nz. Archived from the original on 4 August 2014. 
  14. ^ Rinehart, Dianne (13 November 2013). "Eleanor Catton wins Governor General’s Literary Award for The Luminaries". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  15. ^ "Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2014". Walter Scott Prize. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "Books of the year: Torrents of words". Economist. 7 December 2013. 
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Bring Up the Bodies
Man Booker Prize recipient
2013
Succeeded by
The Narrow Road to the Deep North