The Luminaries (2013) is the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize and Governor General’s Award for Fiction

I heard about The Luminaries (2013), by Eleanor Catton, through Twitter mentions, articles at CBC and elsewhere, and CBC radio segments highlighting the book’s receipt of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

A Feb. 19, 2014 Sydney Morning Herald article is entitled: “Frenzy of fame: Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton is happy to return to a quiet life in New Zealand.”

The latter article ends with these quotes from the author:

  • ”There’s still a lot of snobbery in the world about both Australia and New Zealand, like we’re these colonial backwaters. I’m really proud of being from New Zealand, partly because I think my ambition is higher – it seems like if you were going to try and write a novel you’d have to take on the world, and I kind of like that idea, it gave me a bit of a boost in lots of ways.
  • ”I think it’s good sometimes being on the outside of a culture, in the way we’re slightly on the outside of American culture and English culture, because it means you become a good cultural critic, which is really important if you want to be a writer.”

[End of excerpt]

Toronto Pubic Library

There are many holds on the book at the Toronto Pubic Library.

If you have the opportunity to read this book, read it. It’s a remarkable and impressive work.

Among other things, the revelations that drive the story forward are presented within a structure that is admirably suited to the task at hand.

The book is 832 pages and the writing is focused and succinct. For this reader, t’s an easy read, a narrative that gives rise to much thought and reflection.

The Acknowledgement, at the end of the book, is succinct, clear, and evocative.

From the vantage point of Erving Goffman’s symbolic interactionist frame of reference, the book serves as a forceful and entertaining study of the distinction between frontage and backstage. One can view the novel from a dramaturgical perspective.

Such distinctions deal, among other things, with information and misinformation, understandings and misunderstandings – apprehensions and misapprehensions – and intentions, and the role and significance of silence.

Among other things, a dramaturgical perspective is concerned with stage settings, props, and the staging of events.

Rhetoric and reality

A social interactionist perspective on things is not to everybody’s taste. As well, as an online overview has noted, the theory has limitations: “Critics of this theory claim that symbolic interactionism neglects the macro level of social interpretation – the ‘big picture.’ In other words, symbolic interactionists may miss the larger issues of society by focusing too closely on the ‘trees’ rather than the ‘forest’. The perspective also receives criticism for slighting the influence of social forces and institutions on individual interactions.”

A person can, therefore, choose to ignore social science and view The Luminaries (2013) strictly as a remarkable book, which addresses the difference between rhetoric and reality. We can, in fact, engage with the text however we choose.

Many options for analysis and enjoyment of the text come to mind. A person can picture creating a storyboard of key scenes, as a means of tracking the storyline.

A person can analyze how the characters – including the physical setting, as a character, during the late 1800s, in New Zealand – have been cast – have been chosen with regard to physical characteristics and emotional and cognitive self-presentation – and how the casting of the characters drives the pacing of the story.

I read one or two short stories, and one or two novels, a year. I like to read a few fiction stories, closely.

I also read non-fiction, generally a page or paragraph at a time, closely and at leisure, in the manner that Alice Munro likes to go about reading a short story, written by another author.

Regarding the topic of quantities of information, a Feb. 21, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Alain de Botton on why we need to scale back on too much news.”

A short story writer or novelist, like a movie-maker, creates a self-contained world, and engenders a particular way of viewing the world of everyday life. A novel, especially one that is well received, sets the stage for an extended conversation involving many readers.

The blurb for the novel, from the Toronto Public Library website, reads:


  • Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize and Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and set during the heady days of New Zealand’s Gold Rush, ” The Luminaries” isa magnificent novel of love, lust, murder, and greed, in which three unsolved crimes link the fates and fortunes of twelve men. Dickens meets “Deadwood” in this internationally celebrated phenomenon.
  • In January 1866, young Walter Moody lands in a gold-mining frontier town on the west coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind a family scandal. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to investigate what links three crimes that occurred on a single day: the town’s wealthiest man has vanished. An enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. A prostitute has supposedly tried to end her life. But nothing is quite as it seems. As the men share their stories, what emerges is an intricate network of alliances and betrayals, secrets and lies, that is as exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
  • Part mystery, part fantastical love story, and intricately structured around the zodiac and the golden mean (each chapter is half the length of the preceding one), “The Luminaries” weaves together the changing fates and fortunes of an entire community, one where everyone has something to hide. Rich with character and event, it is a gripping page-turner – and a unique, atmospheric world – in which readers will gladly lose themselves. It confirms Eleanor Catton’s reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative novelists writing today.

[End of text]

Update: Having mentioned in passing short story writer Alice Munro, it’s also of value and benefit to mention short story author Mavis Gallant. A March 3, 2014 New Yorker article is entitled: “Postscript: Mavis Gallant.”


A Feb. 28, 2005 Salon article is entitled: “From ‘Red Harvest’ to ‘Deadwood.'”

A blurb for the novel Deadwood (1986) can be found here.


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