The Luminaries, Explained

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Luminaries Guide by Raymond Huber © 2018

This is a complex, finely crafted mystery, written in the style of a nineteenth century novel; and only the second New Zealand book to win the Man Booker Prize. At one level it’s an historical crime novel about the lust for gold, but the deliberate ‘spheres within spheres’ structure suggests something deeper.

The luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
– The Book of Wisdom 13:2

luminariescoverThe Plot in a Nutshell (spoiler-free)
Part 1 is long and convoluted but the wind-up is needed to appreciate the unwinding that follows.  The opening 40 pages is simply Walter Moody entering a hotel in Hokitika and meeting a group of suspicious men (The Twelve). It’s a masterpiece of scene-setting; a suspense-builder that draws you in before you know it. One of The Twelve, Balfour, interrogates Moody and the tension mounts as Moody suspects everyone is listening.
Then the plot thickens for about 300 pages, almost blocking the flow – but the reader must ‘hang tight’ (to use an idiom from the novel) because the complexity is deliberate.  Balfour relates a mystery concerning the key characters: Crosbie Wells, Lydia Wells, Emery Staines, Anna Wetherell and Francis Carver. His narrative links back to each of The Twelve who tell their version of events…

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Plot Analysis

Structure – Spheres Within Spheres

Themes – Astrology and Cosmic History

Writing Style

The Heart Of It – Place

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