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.