The product of a pathological need to categorise and remember every book I've ever read, and my only creative outlet being critiquing others' creativity.
I wasn’t sure that I was ready to delve into a hefty tome like this so soon after finishing my Masters and The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. But I heard a snippet of the author being interviewed on the radio and something about her humility and the huge success of the book drew me to it. I loved it. I haven’t even finished yet – I’ve got about 70 pages to go – and while my concentration and passion is waning, I still really, really love this book.
There is a cast of thousands, which for someone like me with the memory of a goldfish is challenging, and I fully disclose and accept that the astrological aspects have gone completely over my head and passed me by. I was so enthralled by the plot and the steady, well paced stream of revelations, that the Part and Chapter endings were little more than an annoyance that required turning the page a couple of extra times. To my discredit, I didn’t even bother pausing to think about the meaning or significance of the signs and images. I suppose I’m lazy, having read the book at face value like that. If I have missed a key aspect, it’s one that isn’t necessary for the book to be eminently readable and compelling.
I love Catton’s style, and I found her writing beautiful and seamless. Many times I paused and mulled phrases over in my head, smiling and admiring them, but there were none of the unpleasant jolts back to the reality of me reading a book, that are often present and so disturbing in other books set in a different time. Often when reading a book set elsewhere, I will drift in and out of the time period, like the sensation when watching a movie, where a line or a word or a scene will suddenly snap you out of it, and bring you back to the fact of you sitting in a theatre, watching something on a screen.. Where you have been drawn in and ‘in’ the movie, and something jolts you back to being somebody watching the movie.
The passages of dialogue flowed perfectly. The characters are flesh and blood to me, and Hokitika is as real as the Melbourne that I live in. I have a map in my head, and a vivid and intricate understanding of the landscape and townships, the layout of streets, and the stains and discolouration on Anna’s dresses.
This is a deliciously hulking feast of a novel that I was completely taken in by. Then I did that thing I do, where I get toward the end and start sifting through the thoughts and impressions I have, and reading other peoples’ reviews. If my overall impressions have been negative, positive reviews don’t tend to do anything other than make me irrationally angry (I’m thinking, what seems like everyone else’s obsession with Cormac McCarthy). But if I’m basking in a bubble of joy and contentedness, well written and reasoned critical reviews tend to pull me down a few pegs. Reading reviews before I finish books is a stupid compulsion I have, because so often it ruins my reading of the last part of the book and taints my overall impression.
If I had stopped reading at page 630, or the book had finished around then, this would be a different review, and I would have stopped here, to avoid the kind of rambling ‘it was amazing!!!!!!’ kind of crap that I am so good at. But. In the case of The Luminaries, I tend to agree with a couple of reviews I read that the book is too long by a few hundred pages. I was on page 600 when I read Rebecca Foster’s review and thought, wow, brilliant review but I can’t agree. I went home that night and read some more, hit the point at which we start shifting between 1865 and 1866, and .. Rebecca, you are right. Perhaps I don’t read enough crime or mystery to not be shocked and surprised by the revelations that pulled the remaining fragments of plot together. That said, it just turned what had otherwise been a smooth and effortless book into a smooth book that suddenly became clunky and spattered with unnecessary vignettes.
That aside, The Luminaries is one of the most engaging books I have read for a long time. It was so compelling that I was thankful for its length; until the end, I didn’t feel that there had been any slow points to overcome or get through. It was a pleasure, and I don’t want it to end.