Set during the gold-rush era in Hokitika, New Zealand, The Luminaries is an ambitious and incredibly detailed novel, inventively structured around astrological charts from that time.
The reader’s curiosity is piqued within the first few paragraphs. Twelve unlikely men are secretly gathered in the smoking room at the Crown Hotel, when in walks Walter Moody, fresh off the boat. Suffering from a terrible shock, he is unaware that he has stumbled upon a clandestine meeting. And so there are already two puzzles for the reader: what are the twelve men discussing? And what has shaken Walter Moody?
What follows is a myriad of mysteries becoming more strange and complex the further you read. The Luminaries is like a huge jigsaw, with chunks missing from every piece. At the end, rather than a straight-forward conclusion, you are left with an assortment of pieces to put together for yourself. This is probably infuriating for some readers but I enjoyed having to use my brain.
The intricate plot is told from different perspectives. Each of the twelve men in the smoking room represent a zodiac sign and their parts are played out according to the astrological movements of the time. The book also reflects the waning of the moon, with each section being half the size of the one before. You may think such a structure would cause the narrative to feel forced or unnecessarily long, but somehow it works. The story can be fully enjoyed even if you have no interest in astrology, but it was an added bonus to see how everything fits together
My only real gripe with The Luminaries is the characterisation. All the characters are written well, with their own personalities and back stories, but I felt that none of them truly came to life in my imagination.
At over 800 pages long, you shouldn’t pick up The Luminaries lightly. It needs time and concentration, but if you are in the right frame of mind, it is a real treat.
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