Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, review in London's Daily Telegraph
The favourite to win this year’s Man Booker prize is
a ghostly novel set in Victorian New Zealand. Lucy Daniel is hooked.
Eleanor CattonPhoto: Ulf
The Telegraoph - 28 Aug 2013
'How opaque, the minds of absent men and women! And how elusive, motivation!”
So exclaims the narrator of Eleanor Catton's irresistible second novel. Four years ago her debut, The Rehearsal,
about a sex scandal at a New Zealand high school, won her a cache of nominations
and prizes, but hardly foretold the startling gear shift that has given us this
historical suspense novel, which has made her the favourite for this year’s
Booker prize, aged just 28.
A Victorian sensation novel transplanted to New Zealand, the setting (which
for many readers will be familiar from Rose Tremain’s The Colour) is the
South Island’s west coast in the 1860s: the gold rush, the hastily thrown up
town of Hokitika. On a stormy night, Edinburgh-born Walter Moody walks off the
boat into the first hotel he stumbles across, deeply shaken by an uncanny
incident during his voyage; he finds himself in a room of 12 men who have a
joint secret involving an opium den, a drugged whore, the ghostly ship, a dead
drunk, a missing fortune and a young man’s disappearance.
The characters include a reverend, a “whoremonger”, a politician, a
prospector, an opium trafficker, a fortune-teller, a jailer. Everyone is from
somewhere else (almost – the novel has one Maori character); European
prospectors and Chinese labourers remaking themselves in a new world at “the
southernmost edge of the civilised earth”. Each knows at least one thing not at
first disclosed to the others. Moody becomes privy to the mystery by “a most
disjointed and multifarious report”, which the narrator smooths out for the
Catton matches her telling to her 19th-century setting, indulging us with
straightforward character appraisals, moral estimations of each character along
with old-fashioned rundowns of their physical attributes, a gripping plot that
is cleverly unravelled to its satisfying conclusion, a narrative that from the
first page asserts that it is firmly in control of where it is taking us. Like
the 19th-century novels it emulates, The Luminaries plays on Fortune’s
double meaning – men chasing riches, and the grand intertwining of destinies.
This world turned on its head is an eerie place. On Moody’s arrival
he looks for
constellations by which to guide himself: “The skies were inverted,
the patterns unfamiliar, the Pole Star beneath his feet, quite swallowed... He
found Orion – upended, his quiver beneath him, his sword hanging upward from his
belt; Canis Major – hanging like a dead dog from a butcher’s hook.” Full review