The Luminaries

I wanted to love The Luminaries, from  Eleanor Catton, who won the 2013 Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in  Anglo-Saxon literature. Not necessarily for the right reasons, but because I’ve always liked the  Bookers I read. Also because I liked the first NZ Booker I read , The Bone People (Keri Hulme), and I also liked Mr Pipp,  from Lloyd Jones, another New Zealander (who almost won a few years ago, and  was subsequently turned into a film). Because the book deals with  New Zealand’s history and the West Coast, a region that I love. Because Catton is young, because her father taught  at the University of Canterbury, because her sister took  one of my classes a few years ago. I wanted to love the book despite the fact that I did not  like the interviews she gave in the media at the time. Reading  eight hundred and  eighteen pages in English repelled me a little, but I read Doris Lessing before,  as well as  other authors  who write lengthy novels. Sixty pages into the book, I thought it was well written, and at around page  three hundred, I thought the book was perhaps going somewhere. But after many nights falling asleep  after reading a few pages, I had to conclude  I did not like the book. Thinking I had missed something,  I read the review in The  Guardian, and the reasons  the critic gave  for  loving the book were the same that made me dislike it. Firstly, the choice of the nineteenth centuy  style, against which I have nothing, a priori, did not add anything to the story, it seemed to me. Then what the critic of The Guardian called stage directions, deeply bothered me. Reading the book, I had the impression I was  reading a script for a TV series giving instructions about the small details: the  colour  of the dress,  its length, the  embroidery on it, how  one character smokes his  pipe repeatedly, etc. Catton has undeniably been researching the gold rush and the New Zealand history of this period, but I often had the impression of reading a research assignment  rather than a novel, as if  Catton wanted to include at all costs  everything  she discovered on the subject. It felt like   the research had not been digested. But what I liked even less, is the way the characters are not embodied (what the critic likes, in The Guardian).

I always found that films made from  books I read are invariably not as good as the books. In the case of The Luminaries, I believe, unfortunately, that the film will be better than the book. However, I am conscious to be part of  a minority of dissatisfied readers, since the book has sold millions of copies.

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13 thoughts on “The Luminaries”

  1. Thank so much for an honest (finally, someone!!) review. I am tired of arguing with my friends that winning a Booker does not mean good literature always. Ironically, I do that the other way round for Adiga, when all his classmates and friends tell me that he did not deserve it. That might be so, but I would not want to get into that at all. (In fact, I had almost stabbed him and crushed his skull with a cricket stump in our school days, when I raged and raged at him. Lucky! I would be in jail and he would not have won the Booker).
    But this is one of the more honest reviews I have read in a long time. I am glad that you are not swayed by public opinion or by personal emotions alone. It is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I stand by what you have said. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting, after reading a year ago a book adapted from a videogame (I’m very curious to discover new literatures) I noticed the same: books that seems intended to be written as instructions to film adapters, so for example ladies, independently of their age, are quite beautiful and have well cared bodies without work-outs (translated to “Mr. Director you are only allowed to hire beauty queens as actresses”) and after a hiatus I returned to literature and among several titles I picked up Dan Brown’s Inferno and I felt again that element that in my opinion cheapen the experience of reading (I’m reading it slowly… preferring other books)
    The success of certain books seems to rely in a recipe to satisfy the expectative of the reader/buyer (I don’t know if the book you read is in that category but looks like that) more than a genuine need to tell a story.

    Years ago I gave up to read books winners in contests, even more in my country where they are gifts among friends…

    Thanks for share your opinion Sylvie, and for don’t influence your integrity as a reader with your closeness to the family of the author.

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  3. Great books simply don’t make a descent movie – or even a musical. They simply can’t make a descent movie out of Wuthering Heights or a descent musical out of Les Miserables 😦 Thanks for the revue. I haven’t as yet read Catton’s novel. I shall do so once it hits cheal second hand stalls at fundraising galas.

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  4. Oh, I started on your French blog and had to move over here. I read Caton’s book last winter and all winter long a friend would ask what I was reading and I was STILL reading it. (To be fair, I read other things as I needed relief.) It was beautifully written and a bit like soaking in a hot tub. I liked the historical setting, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle where someone had thrown in extra pieces. The gold sewn into the seams of the dress. The missing people. The landscape. But what the devil was going on? I came to it unaware, not having heard any interviews and just thought it sounded interesting. Frankly it was beautifully written and puzzling. Years ago I read a book by Kazuo Ishiguro called A Pale View of Hills. Beautiful language. I turned the last page, couldn’t believe it was done, flipped back through the last few pages to see if I missed something and then shelved it. A while later a friend mentioned he had read it and I told him my experience. He laughed. “You too?” So, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is two, who did not get it. Maybe, I read it a the wrong time. I did not read A Pale View of Hills, but read The Remains of the Day and liked it, but it is the only book from Ishiguro I have read. Thank you for mentioning the gold in the seams, I thought one has to be very strange not to realise there is something in one’s dress 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL, along with much more. WordPress has made it so much easier to trash comments accidentally–which I’ve done several times–but I’ve been able to pull them from the trash, as it isn’t something I ever empty. At least some of my commenters aren’t going into spam any more!

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