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The Luminaries

Written by: Eleanor Catton
Narrated by: Mark Meadows
Length: 29 hrs and 15 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (21 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted – Baileys Women’s Prize 2014

Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2013

Canadian Governor General's Literary Award, 2013.

It is 1866 and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th-century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-20s, and will confirm for critics and listeners that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2007 and won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for The Rehearsal. She was the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to study for a year at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop in the US and went on to hold a position as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing there, teaching Creative Writing and Popular Culture. Eleanor won a 2010 New Generation Award. She now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

©2013 Eleanor Catton (P)2013 Audible Ltd

What the critics say

"The Luminaries is an impressive novel, captivating, intense and full of surprises.” ( Times Literary Supplement)
“The Luminaries is a breathtakingly ambitious 800-page mystery with a plot as complex and a cast as motley as any 19th-century doorstopper. That Catton's absorbing, hugely elaborate novel is at its heart so simple is a great part of its charm. Catton's playful and increasingly virtuosic denouement arrives at a conclusion that is as beautiful as it is triumphant.” ( Daily Mail)
“It is awesomely - even bewilderingly - intricate. There's an immaculate finish to Catton's prose, which is no mean feat in a novel that lives or dies by its handling of period dialogue. It's more than 800 pages long but the reward for your stamina is a double-dealing world of skullduggery traced in rare complexity. Those Booker judges will have wrists of steel if it makes the shortlist, as it fully deserves.” ( Evening Standard),br />“Eleanor Catton is nothing if not ambitious. Her latest novel, longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize, is an 828-page blockbuster. With astonishing intricacy and patient finesse, Catton brings to life the anomalous nature of 19th-century New Zealand.” ( Sunday Times)
“Expansive and quite superb. Catton writes with real sophistication and intelligence... with intricate plotting and carefully wrought scenes.” ( Scotsman)
“Every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner.” ( Guardian)
“For the scale of her ambition and the beauty of its execution, somebody should give that girl a medal.” (Lucy Daniel, Daily Telegraph)
“a truly exciting new writer” (Kate Atkinson)

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Average Customer Ratings

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Ugh.

If you're looking for a good, entertaining story, run away. Run far away. This book was not meant to entertain the masses (or if it was, I think it failed miserably), it was meant to be artfully clever in ways that do absolutely nothing for plot and character.

I'm not saying the author is not a good writer. I'm saying this book is written for literature lovers, not story lovers. It is meant to be dissected in classrooms by people who enjoy that sort of thing (or are forced to be there because they need the credit and they thought Lit 101 would be easy).

Literature leaves me cold and bored. This book left me freezing and comatose. That will either sound like a damning indictment or high praise, depending on your personal tastes.

#Audible1

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A very good ghost/historical/murder mystery/story.

Well worth the time to listen to the book, know the characters and invest in the convoluted story line.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

LOOOONG book

I usually like this type of novel, but for some reason I just found it a bit dull. When I read reviews about the 'written book' it sounded slightly more interesting as there was some 'visual' aspect to titles and length of chapters that may have slightly added to the book. Catton's language is lovely, but I just found it a bit uninteresting

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Feels scattered

Struggled to listen to this at all. Hard to listen to on audio, can't follow the story

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complicated story

too many characters with complicated stories intertwined. it could have been said in less words.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Allan Cumming
  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2013-10-31

Sometimes you need to have a book read to you

What made the experience of listening to The Luminaries the most enjoyable?

The pacing of this book is such that reading it myself, I found that I was skipping. One of the things I enjoy the most about audio books is being forced to slow down and enjoy the language. Maybe the complex structural devices do not come through in this experience, but the language is enhanced.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The outstanding character was none of the individuals, but rather the environment. Obviously I have no direct experience of gold mining on the West Coast in the 1800s, but I came away with a vivid picture in my mind.

What does Mark Meadows bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Recently I listened to an interview by Orson Scott Card where he stated that some books are made to be read out loud. The Luminaries is one of those books. The range of characters, accents and the language make listening far more enjoyable than reading.Sometimes I read for plot, and sometimes for the rhythm and language, and while the plot is good, it is not the primary value of this book.

53 of 61 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Mel
  • 2013-11-10

Not So Luminous

I usually give in to the award winners, more out of a skeptical curiosity than the belief in some arbitrary group's promise that this will be *the best book I've read since...* I enjoy the mental argument that *they* got it wrong, as much as the agreement that *they* got it right, either way counting on being stirred enough by the read to have the passion for a discussion. In the case of the Luminaries, I get neither satisfaction. The only other short-listed Man Booker I've read this year is Harvest by Jim Crace -- it lost, and was about equally entertaining (as was Transatlantic, from the longlist). The word, I swore I'd never use in a review comes to mind -- meh (less a word than onomatopoeia) such a cop out, but the listen left me exhausted for the reasons I'll explain.

This is not a complaint, or to say I did not like the book. It is captivating and elaborately constructed with a great sense of place and time. The period details are transportive, in the beginning feeling much like a good Dickens pastiche. The characters, as many as there are months of the year, are each an astrological sign, or house, and the characteristics assigned to those distinctions, which she uses to prefix each chapter, as well as explain whom is in whose house, etc. Catton also enjoys some word-play in this complex production of writing and architecture -- writing each chapter with exactly half the words as the preceding chapter. All these pieces of construction are exceptionally ambitious and creative, but can be confusing and mentally labor intensive. (There is no explanation given in the audible version; I came to these realizations after banging my head against the wall for a couple of days, and relentlessly texting Darwin on the matter.)

Catton has definitely written an interesting novel, and written, and written, and belabored the plot until I just lost interest and wanted to move forward to a finish instead of reviewing, again, the events as told by each of the 12 characters involved. I would go into synopsis of the book, but then you'd have to hear the same plot from THIRTEEN points of view, instead of a mere TWELVE. Sophisticated intelligence, beautiful prose, and intricate plotting, become less so when redundant and complicated.

(A big) -- However... a friend tells me this is a book I would absolutely love if I read the book, which contains charts, graphs, and a very important list of characters, all adding clarity and an ease to the read, as well as beautifully tying in the astrological twist. For clarification, I did not like the book as I experienced it audibly, but I did recognize the talent and creativity enough to consider picking up the book and giving it another chance. It's is going to take me a while before I'm ready to tackle all 30 hours of this again. A consideration for those still undecided. Hopefully, a little understanding before going in will be helpful.

138 of 161 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • january
  • Rock Hill, SC
  • 2014-01-23

I almost let the reviews keep me from a good book

I don't buy into trends or hype. I don't want to read a book that everyone loved, because honestly, everyone's tastes aren't the same as mine. I like books that challenge, that awe and astound, that push me to think in a way I haven't before. I won't read a book just because it won an award.

That being said, after reading the synopsis of this book, I decided to read it anyway. It sounded new and different. But I was disheartened by all of the negative reviews. Again, I decided to read it anyway. And I'm glad I did.

The characters are rich and well developed. And although there are a lot of them, it's not difficult to keep them all straight because of their individuality.

Something that everyone is talking about is the astrological formula Ms. Catton used. While I agree that it does sound like a creative writing class prompt, I do not consider that a bad thing. What does it matter how you get there? It only matters that what you have when you get there is something you're proud of, and, hopefully, something that people want to read. I think she has been successful on both counts. To me, the astrological aspect didn't matter a great deal over all. That is to say, it neither added nor subtracted from the story.

I'm happy with the time I spent listening to this book. It allowed me to look at a time and place I generally would have to reason to consider.

34 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • E
  • Grapevine, TX, United States
  • 2015-10-20

Terrific book, wonderfully woven tales

This is my second listening. The reader does an amazing job with the voices and this complex story unfolds like an origami box.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth Anne
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 2013-11-16

fantastic novel, perfect narration. 5 STARS!

I LOOOVVVEEED THIS BOOK!!!

how did this novel only take 2 years to write? and how was eleanor catton only 27 years old when it was published??? i feel like the amount of detail about astrology and historical realism in this book would have...should have...taken 10 years to research and work out. never mind the way the the waning of the chapters, following the moon cycles grow progressively longer and then extremely short. the chapter introductions,...growing progressively longer and longer and longer. the astrological star titles given to each character, and astrological house given to each location, all switching prominence and even switching moods as their charts change. the layers of discovery...stories within stories...how each chapter breaks the belief i had in different character's motives and actions.

even WITHOUT the structural complexity of this novel, it's a winner in my eyes. even WITH the structural complexity, it seemed like an easy read, and it didn't seem as long as it is. and i must admit...i think some of the structural complexity was lost to me!!!

the novel offers up theatrical settings with secrets and sex and drugs and mystery. lively characters, even without much depth, tromp in and out of the chapters....tangling a web that you think is going to be unraveled. but keeps getting even more twisted.

so many people have said this book is a 'difficult' read...but i did not find even one page of it difficult. this really is a book that is pure joy to read. PURE JOY.

i am so excited to revisit this novel again and again throughout the rest of my life...to me, it's one of those books i will never ever forget and never ever just leave on the shelf.

24 of 30 people found this review helpful

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  • Victoria
  • 2013-10-19

Engrossing story; beautifully narrated

I've had this book sitting on my bedside table for months; I finally broke down and got the audio book. I'm so glad I did. It's completely and totally engrossing--I was glad it was so long just because I was enjoying the story so much! After the Hillary Mantel books, probably my favorite Booker winner in a long time. The narrator is fabulous--he does accents incredibly well and in all but a few cases pronounces the Maori words accurately, which is a rarity. One quibble: Unless the pronunciation was different in the 19th century, Hokitika is pronounced Hoe-ka-tick-a, not Hah-ka-tee-ka; since that town is mentioned many, many, many times, the mispronunciation is a bit grating, but otherwise, his performance really makes the story come alive.

34 of 44 people found this review helpful

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  • Dina
  • LAKE ZURICH, IL, United States
  • 2014-01-04

An Astrological Wonder

I have to say that this book was extraordinarily clever. You would probably have to read it more than once to really appreciate the extent of the acumen that was needed to write it. The ability to combine astrology with a unique place and time (1860's Gold Rush in New Zealand) signals a very talented writer. The swirling of characters as they mirror the night sky made for a great tale, and yet there was something lacking. The attention was placed so much on the "mechanics" of it all that it lacked emotion. And, real attachment to any one character was just not possible. In the end, all the players were just living descriptors of the signs and planets, seemingly lacking any soul...which is why any good astrologer knows that a chart is nothing without the influence of spirit.

18 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Shaina
  • 2015-03-06

Amazing!!

Both the writing and the narration perfectly evoke the feeling of a mining town flush with gold, mystery and drama. The circuitous route by which the characters and their back stories are introduced and tied together keeps the interest level high. As more and more details are revealed and your first impressions are challenged and turned on end you will find yourself wanting to reach the end just so that you can re-read this tale again and catch any clues that you missed on your first go-round.

This book has found a permanent home on my bookshelf as I know that I will be re-reading it over and over. I highly recommend it to fans of Historical Fiction, Mystery, and Drama as it has plenty of all three.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Kali
  • Walnut Creek, CA
  • 2014-05-19

A dizzying, heady masterpiece.

Listening to The Luminaries is like being dropped in the midst of New Zealand’s Otago Gold Rush, blindfolded and totally without reference, and then being spun round in circles by a stranger and let loose to feel around the landscapes and stand near their inhabitants, prospectors and bankers and Chinese diggers and tattooed Māori streaming around you, the women left to pleasure and care for these teeming throngs of men nearly knocking you over as they rush this way and that, and just as you feel overwhelming lost amidst these endless characters, totally without equilibrium in this many-plotted story centered in a town where everyone wants to make it rich, Eleanor Catton comes and takes you by the shoulder and steadies you for just a moment, and you breathe in the smells of dirty men and sea water as ships wreck upon the beach and scavengers look upon the ships and you sigh and know that despite there being too much information here, maybe just too much life here, for one book to ever express, you must keep reading.

Anyone coming off of a Goldfinch buzz and wondering what their next ambitious, too-long book will be should look no further than The Luminaries. Both books are written with the crisp observations that make them so much more than plot recounted. These are stories of life, magnified. Stories of how life could be if we all drunk in details of each other’s quirks and charms, every insecurity and affect, every ugly part and every beautiful one, and then maximized them into sentence-formed still lives spilling over into paragraphs so illustrative of this human condition we’re stuck in they act like paintings on pages changing ordinary days into phenomenas, ordinary interactions into humorous, tragic, wonderful things worth documenting. This is how these books get to be close to 1,000 pages long–life magnified is a very big thing, indeed.

The Luminaries, as I’ve mentioned, is the story of New Zealand’s Otago Gold Rush, and the story of a plethora of characters drawn together by an unfortunate set of circumstances. Men in all sorts of businesses centered around profiting off of gold or the men who find it feel uneasily bamboozled, they all sense a caper of some sort, and yet trying to pin down who has down wrong when is like trying to sift the gold dust apart from the dirt. The plot is complicated, and meant to be, as that’s the fun and beauty of the thing. Also, this is a book that uses the word “whore” quite a bit. Prepare yourself for that.

Catton includes all sorts of bells and whistles, but she really didn’t need to, as her writing stands on its own. There are astrological signs and charts of each character’s place on the zodiac, and there are chapter lengths that get progressively shorter by half until it seems almost hard to keep up with all the pieces that are being put together. Unfortunately much of this is lost in the audiobook, as it could have included a .pdf with the illustrations from the book for reference. What the audiobook version gained was narrator Mark Meadows deftly juggling the varied accents required amidst the cultural mish-mash of gold rush New Zealand. I appreciate getting lost in layers of meaning as much as the next book nerd, however, and I’ll be picking up a hard copy of the book to read again for further understanding of the whole astrological subtext.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark Hancock
  • United States
  • 2015-11-23

Excellent novel made more exceptional be narrator

A wonderful, captivating story that could've gone on even longer. Simply fantastic. Excellent novel made more exceptional be narrator.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • nreyes
  • 2018-01-17

A masterpiece

I had been hoping to read this for quite some time and finding the Audible version was superb. It is a gripping story, masterfully narrated by Mark Meadows. Thrilling to the very end. I hope they will one day make a film of this fantastic tale set in Aotearoa.
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1 of 1 people found this review helpful