Friday, February 19, 2016


A quick word about a slow novel, and I mean slow in the best possible sense: I finished Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries last weekend and it was a blast. Actually, getting to the end by Sunday was a bit of a surprise as I still had a couple of hundred pages to go on Saturday and I thought it might take a week or so to read them, given how long the previous six hundred pages had taken. But things speed up considerably in the final quarter of the novel. A gripping courtroom sequence is followed by the increasing fragmentation of the text. Chapters get shorter and shorter, and seem to simply fill in some of the gaps in the very complex narrative. I'm not sure I successfully assembled the complete jigsaw on offer, but I put together a workable picture of what it had all been about.

As a kind of high-level, thought-provoking entertainment the work is an obvious success. I suppose a trickier question is whether Ms Catton gets beyond the fictional boundaries of her brilliantly realised world to say something about the way we live. Imitating Wilkie Collins in a sophisticated post-modern manner is great fun; but is it more than that? I think it is, but I'm not entirely sure how I can explain this. I suppose it lies in factors like the convincing evocation of small town life in a place at the edge of what we might see as the civilised world and the sure-footed sense of what it was to have been an alien in that world, as masterfully realised in the depiction of the Chinese characters particularly.

No wonder it won the Booker.

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