2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

luminariesRating: 3 (3.5)

The Luminaries
A Novel by Eleanor Catton
2013 /848 Pages

You may have noticed on our side bar to your right that what I was “Currently Reading” was The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. It must have been showing I was “currently reading” it for well over a month, perhaps longer. For me, straight up and honest, it certainly felt like I was chained to this book for many, many months. Indeed, I easily and readily found a great number of times to put it aside and read other books all the while, four (4!) to be exact, and contemplated two others.

There is absolutely no contested doubt that The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton’s is a very ambitious and exquisitely written novel. There is no doubt it is stunning in its descriptive and delightful characterization. Yet, perhaps this is also its greatest flaw, perhaps it is too ambitious in its excessive description or for tying characters and their story to an obscure astrological calendar that I honestly did not care enough to research to see how it fit with this intricately written historical mystery (ex. what or how “Sun in Capricorn” fits). More than likely it is due to its excessive length and excessive descriptions of every thing, every one. My enjoyment continuously waned as I increasingly felt more like I was being “forced” to read it for our BookerMarks project. I’m certain I would have abandoned this one long, long before had I been reading it more for my leisure. Truthfully, The Luminaries was something I had looked forward to before its inclusion in the Man Booker Prize Longlist (& Shortlist) announcement(s).  But just as truthfully, it also became something I wished to abandon on more than one occasion. (Obviously, as I was able to ease in four other books in between.) It was too easy for me to put aside and read just this one here, and well, now this one has popped up, and oh! look I can read this one too!

By the time I hit Part Two I was exhausted and aghast to realize I still had 425 pages to slog through. And it was at this point that I truly stopped forcing myself to pretend and keep up any pretense I was enjoying this. I did complete it, I did read it. It was painful. But I did it. I gave up repeating to myself that yes, this was so good I so completely agree it’s wonderful! Up to a point I was enjoying it but only because of its richly and classically composed narrative. Yet, there is only so long I could hold to that. I began to resent this novel with a passion knowing that I still had the equivalent of approximately two-books-worth more of reading to do in order to reach completion.

While the definite pros of the book lay in her beautiful, beautiful prose and the synopsis of events at the start of every chapter that leads to her slow reveal (with incredible attention to every detail) of each of those events. There was not one detail that was left unnoticed or described, not one fold of a pocket, one glance of an eye, not one size, shape, texture of their mutton chop. Beautifully detailed. Yet…..after 326 pages of reading about those folds, colours, textures, appeals of the suit or dress they are wearing starts to wear you down. Certainly, it did for me.

Did I mention it’s too long? I’ve read door-stoppers before, but I haven’t felt the anxiety and drudgery with those that I felt with this one. In the context of The Luminaries, it is definitely too long and padded down with more filler than necessary. I started to read the reviews on Goodreads (likely I was thinking it would be a way to cheat and see if the mystery was solved in 250 words or less!)  and many mentioned that it could easily have been cut short 250 pages. I couldn’t agree more. What a tremendous slog this became. What also stung was the slip from two of our BookerMarks bloggers in saying the ending was a bit of a letdown. Seriously? So you’re telling me now that I’m suffering through this only to become even more disappointed with its end? All of these points I could not get out of my head and it certainly hindered any attempt at enjoyment of it for any longer (and, so you know, to say the ending was a “bit”of a letdown is a gross understatement in my opinion).

For me, The Luminaries sits firmly between the 3-star and 3.5-star rating. “Good, recommend with reservations” to “Very good”. Very good for the obvious beautiful, descriptive and classical prose but recommend this with strong reservations due to the sheer investment of time required to read through this tome to its end and because that investment of time results in an abysmal ending. In terms of winning the Man Booker Prize? It’s not my choice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. For myself, I’m just so delighted I finally reached the finish line. Whew!

This will be published simultaneously on BookerMarks.

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