When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830 pages long, is broken up into twelve parts all labeled with a complicated looking astrological chart and location coordinates and has a classical, Victorian writing style to it. However, once I actually started reading it I found it hard to stop. This crime mystery set in 19th century New Zealand is unlike anything I have read before and, for that and many other reasons, was entirely entertaining and consuming.
The first part of The Luminaries is 360 pages all by itself and begins on a dark and stormy night in a small town on the coast of New Zealand. Walter Moody has fled his past and traveled to this remote location to find his future and, hopefully, his fortune in the goldfields nearby. Quite by accident he stumbles upon a secret meeting of twelve men, all seemingly very different but connected by things Mr. Moody has yet to discover. What follows in this first section is the history of each of these men and their separate connections to the strange events that have recently occurred all on the same night, namely the death of a reclusive drunk, the discovery of a vast fortune in gold hidden in the dead man’s home, the disappearance of a wealthy young man and the believed attempted suicide of a prostitute. Is it possible that all of these events happening simultaneously are a coincidence? As each man shares his knowledge and influence over these events it becomes quite clear that there is much they must discover if they will ever know the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.
The next three parts continue into the near future, showing how the men, now thirteen strong with the addition of Mr. Moody, try and put all the small and intricate pieces of these various puzzles together to discover the truth. As these events unfolded it was exhilarating to see how the pieces fit together and how so much of what had been perceived was in fact not what it appeared to be.
The remaining parts of The Luminaries go back in time to show the reader what really happened and come full circle back to the beginning of the story. I absolutely loved this structure and, for me, it helped bring closure to the events discussed as, whether for good or bad, the reader is finally given the facts as they are. By no means does the above description talk about everything going on in this book. The Luminaries is chock full of strange similarities as well as opposites: crime and justice; greed and generosity; love and hate; the mystical and the elemental. It has heavy astrological influences that, to be honest, I don’t believe I fully understand but which I find completely fascinating.
I think my favorite aspect of The Luminaries is the vast amount of time spent on character and setting development. I found it to be a completely immersive experience and the reader can’t help but feel like they are a witness to the complicated events unfolding.
It isn’t hard to see why The Luminaries recently won the Man Booker Prize. Any reader willing to give it the time it deserves will not be disappointed.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.