The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
A Novel

75%

86 Critic Reviews

We do not imagine that the author believes in astrology, but we do expect that she has used it scrupulously. The astrological framework imparts to every character a destiny. While giving us visible assurance of the novel's plot, it also demonstrates that this is a novel about plotting.
-Guardian

Synopsis

The bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel hailed as "a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new. The pages fly."--New York Times Book Review

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to stake his claim in New Zealand's booming gold rush. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: a wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous cache of gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, THE LUMINARIES is at once a fiendishly clever ghost story, a gripping page-turner, and a thrilling novelistic achievement. It richly confirms that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international literary firmament.
 

About Eleanor Catton

See more books from this Author
Born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, Eleanor Catton, 27, completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2007 and won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for her first novel, The Rehearsal, which was also long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop as the recipient of the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship. She lives in New Zealand.
 
Published October 15, 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. 849 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon19
Peak Rank on Nov 03 2013
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
3
Want to Read
1
Have Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for The Luminaries
All: 86 | Positive: 66 | Negative: 20

Kirkus

Excellent
on Sep 18 2013

There’s a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It’s work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Sep 30 2013

Catton artfully restrains her verse, and she occasionally breaks the fourth wall—reminding readers that this story is about, above all things, the excitement of storytelling.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Oct 23 2013

Characters who are pale, waxen, grievously wounded, bone thin, fogged by opium, or redolent of the sea in a rugged region plagued by shipwrecks, move through the book alongside the living. Dead or alive? That’s not a question on Ms. Catton’s astral plane. The question is whether it matters.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Bill Roorbach on Oct 16 2013

“The Luminaries” is a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by John Mullan on Apr 04 2014

We do not imagine that the author believes in astrology, but we do expect that she has used it scrupulously. The astrological framework imparts to every character a destiny. While giving us visible assurance of the novel's plot, it also demonstrates that this is a novel about plotting.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Liz Bury on Oct 16 2013

...The Luminaries is a romance in the small, individual sense and in the broadest way, too, as beauty, hope and love battle to overcome greed and ugliness.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Justine Jordan on Oct 15 2013

Next year the Booker admits US authors, and some fear the rest of the world will be overshadowed. Catton's talent is already shining too bright for that to be a problem for her.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Kirsty Gunn on Sep 11 2013

But the problem is that as we read on, we don't read in. It is a curious act of double-writing that Catton has achieved – that she could write more and more about a thing, only to have it matter less and less. The characters don't gain depth as the story proceeds...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by LUCY SCHOLES on Sep 07 2013

The first part of the novel, nigh-on 400 pages, is one of the most beautifully and intricately mapped pieces I've ever read...

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Martin Rubin on Oct 15 2013

Ms. Catton here tells a tale of intrigue, double-dealing and frontier justice in mid-19th-century New Zealand (her native country), and she does so with breathtaking observational precision and narrative complexity...In this marvelously inventive novel, nothing is quite what it first appears to be, but everything is illuminated.

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Examiner

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Kelton on Oct 28 2013

Examiner suggests this is most likely not a fast read. But if you like long, involved complexity, you’ll feel at home with “The Luminaries.”

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by CK Stead on Sep 06 2013

Ingenuity outruns admiration and becomes tedious. I finished the novel acknowledging enormous talent but feeling the demands made on time and attention offered insufficient human or intellectual return.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Ray Palen on Nov 01 2013

...Eleanor Catton needs to be praised for the fact that she is able to sustain interest and intrigue for 800+ pages. The writing will hark back to classic storytelling styles like Dickens and Austen.

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Laura Eggertson on Oct 02 2013

Although not deeply interested in the astrological symbolism, I was appreciative of Catton’s story-telling prowess and enraptured of her characters. In persuading us to fall in love with them, she accomplished her goal.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Stephan Lee on Nov 13 2013

Not a high-minded one destined to be taught in schools, but a genuinely pleasurable romp meant to absorb you for days and days.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Emily Donaldson on Sep 30 2013

Despite the novel’s headline-catching extremes (its length, Catton’s youth), we quickly come to see it not as an exercise in audaciousness but as a bold experiment gone right.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Chris Bohjalian on Oct 15 2013

...I can’t recall the last time I read a novel that left me so baffled. In the end, however, I was awed...

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Simmy Richman on Aug 31 2013

Yes it's big. Yes it's clever. But do yourself a favour and read The Luminaries before someone attempts to confine its pleasures to the screen, big or small.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Brian Morton on Aug 30 2013

Not yet 30, her mastery of fictional form is already assured. Expect to see The Luminaries attracting a good deal more light yet.

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The Telegraph

Good
Reviewed by Lucy Daniel on Aug 28 2013

...The Luminaries plays on Fortune’s double meaning – men chasing riches, and the grand intertwining of destinies.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
on Jun 05 2014

The 800-plus page novel may be a doorstopper, but it's also a not-to-be-missed 21st-century makeover of the 19th-century novel.

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Anna Mundow on Oct 18 2013

...Catton ascends to view her characters from a celestial height in poetically spare closing chapters that shine like the gold at the novel's heart.

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The Bookbag

Good
Reviewed by Robin Leggett on Aug 01 2013

The quality of the Booker long list seems to have become more erratic in recent years, but The Luminaries would not look out of place on the short list of even the vintage years. Definitely recommended.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Tyler Gore on Dec 09 2013

Catton is clearly a gifted storyteller with a strong interest in experimental narrative structures. I will undoubtedly pick up her next book. But I still can't help wishing that she had invested less energy into the clockwork mechanics of the book, and more into its soul.

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Pajiba

Good
Reviewed by ElCicco on Dec 10 2013

It can be a bit of a slog at first, but once you see the connections among the characters and the facts of their pasts slowly work their way forward, it’s an engrossing story.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam on Nov 30 2013

Everything adds up in this novel, but the picture with which it concludes doesn't match the one I expected. But you know what? I have the feeling that this might be precisely the point.

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Express

Excellent
Reviewed by Jake Kerridge on Sep 15 2013

Although I felt the need to gallop through the book in pursuit of some answer that would satisfy my increasingly painful curiosity, I found myself frequently slowing down to savour Catton's characterisations and gentle wit.

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Good
Reviewed by Anna Mundow on Oct 15 2013

Catton's prose rarely soars. It remains wonderfully earthbound with descriptions of weather and light, of mannerism and speech that vividly evoke a wild place and its disparate inhabitants.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Good
Reviewed by Andrew Riemer on Aug 24 2013

The Luminaries is a remarkable tour de force, breathtaking in the layer upon layer of astrological lore it reveals throughout its great length. Decoding such an allegory can be absorbing - like tackling cryptic crossword puzzles.

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PopMatters

Good
Reviewed by Zachary Houle on Mar 11 2014

Catton has pulled off the most daring of feats: writing a very long historical novel that stands with the very best works of fiction. It’s a reverent and tuneful piece of writing...

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Historical Novel Society

Below average
Reviewed by Sarah Bower on Nov 01 2013

...narrative device gives the novel brilliance, but it also makes it very difficult to engage with the characters, whose histories...are subjected to a ruthless, clear-sighted analysis, almost as if they are specimens in a laboratory. While I admired the novel for its technical expertise, therefore, I remained unmoved by it.

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Macleans

Good
Reviewed by Dafna Izenberg on Sep 27 2013

The story opens in January 1866, in a hotel in a tiny prospecting town called Hokitika, where 12 men have gathered for a secret council. The reason for their assembly is slowly—tantalizingly—revealed to an uninvited guest.

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We Love This Book

Good
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster on Jan 08 2013

Catton is over-reliant on the tête-à-tête as a means of conveying information; it is easy to grow weary of these one-to-one meetings. However, it feels somewhat churlish to raise minor quibbles about such an accomplished work. In scope and seriousness, The Luminaries rivals almost any Victorian triple-decker – an impressive feat from a 27-year-old.

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Journal Sentinel

Good
Reviewed by Mike Fischer on Oct 15 2013

There's a postmodern wink in all of this: for all the language and characters in the impeccably paced and executed opening section, there's ultimately more truth to be found in the novel's moving, closing coda.

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Scotsman.com

Good
Reviewed by Lesley McDowell on Aug 24 2013

Catton writes with real sophistication and intelligence, so this weak characterisation is at odds with the rest of the novel, its intricate plotting and carefully wrought scenes. Can it be part of her subversion of the 19th-century narrative? I suspect not – but with a talent like Catton’s, one can never be too sure.

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MostlyFiction Book Reviews

Above average
Reviewed by Betsey Van Horn on Nov 17 2013

You will either be intoxicated by this big brawl of a book, or weighed down in its heft...At times, I felt I mined the grand nuggets of the story, and at other times, it blew away like dust.

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The Millions

Excellent
Reviewed by MARTHA ANNE TOLL on Oct 14 2013

...The Luminaries takes its leisurely time roaming the past tense, developing an intricate and complex plot. Catton’s nineteenth century style feels brand new.

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The New Zealand Herald

Good
Reviewed by Paula Green on Jul 27 2013

Catton is a remarkable writer and this is a remarkable book that has earned its place in essential New Zealand reading.

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The New Zealand Herald

Good
Reviewed by Paula Green on Jul 27 2013

I don't want to spoil the effect of the unfolding narrative's twists and turns by exposing them, but when I reached the end I felt extremely satisfied. Catton is a remarkable writer and this is a remarkable book that has earned its place in essential New Zealand reading.

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Stuff

Good
Reviewed by Rosa Shields on Oct 16 2013

Catton's breadth of knowledge on many specificities of the era, whether gained through research or native general knowledge, is overwhelming, as is her innate understanding of the human condition.

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Persephone Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Karo on Oct 29 2013

There really are spheres within spheres, and I didn’t want those stories to stop. I felt bereaved after I put the book down...For me, this is a sure sign that I’ve just read an amazing book.

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Good E-Reader

Below average
Reviewed by Mercy Pilkington on Feb 23 2014

...it has a rather unrefreshing plot–man strikes out for the unknowns of New Zealand to seek his fame and fortune and finds that the rest of the world is also trying to enjoy the prosperity that a whole new economy can offer–that has been done often and done well. This just isn’t one of those times.

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IBN Live

Good
Reviewed by Yatin Gupta on Jan 13 2014

The book goes beyond the duty of solving a crime or untangling a mishap for the amusement of the reader. It is a lot more and a good one at that.

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Asian Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana on Nov 01 2013

The Luminaries is so intelligently...constructed and connived, researched and ravelled, yet I came away...with a very distinct feeling that Catton rather enjoys playing the role of God.

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Chron

Good
Reviewed by Chris Bohjalian on Oct 25 2013

...it is astoundingly complicated and almost defies explanation. Moreover, I can't recall the last time I read a novel that left me so baffled. In the end, however, I was awed.

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For Books' Sake

Good
Reviewed by Laura Vickers on Oct 28 2013

A story that demands your concentration and that devours your mind as much as your mind devours it, The Luminaries will yield a great deal of satisfaction… eventually. Literary gold.

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Dawn.com

Good
Reviewed by SHEHERYAR B. SHEIKH on Oct 27 2013

The author is just beginning, and her talent is soaring already. The question comes begging: how much better than this magnificent novel can she write? Readers around the world should pick The Luminaries up immediately, for it is sure to remain part of the canon of contemporary — and perhaps all-time — greats.

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Artswrap

Excellent
on Sep 19 2013

It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-20s, and will confirm for critics and readers that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

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Scoop

Above average
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana on Jan 09 2014

As brilliant and as beguiling as The Luminaries unquestionably is, I feel compelled to note that it is a book that will resonate far more resoundingly with the very people who most profitably populate its many pages: eccentric and rather egoistic European folk searching for gold, and determined to do whatever it takes to grasp it.

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Time Out Bangalore

Good
Reviewed by Shreevatsa Nevatia on Nov 08 2013

It is somewhat strange to be immersed in a book where the characters wear moleskin instead of penning thoughts in diaries that are bound by the fabric, but Catton’s universe proves to be more than sufficient for us to believe in.

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National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Emily Donaldson on Sep 20 2013

The sheer surface area of the novel means that there’s more than ample opportunity for inconsistencies to bubble up. Stylistically though, The Luminaries is as solid as the brick it physically resembles.

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Luxury Reading

Excellent
Reviewed by Vera on Dec 09 2013

I think my favorite aspect of The Luminaries is the vast amount of time spent on character and setting development. I found it to be a completely immersive experience and the reader can’t help but feel like they are a witness to the complicated events unfolding.

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Fantasy Book Review

Good
on Jun 09 2014

By the end of the novel I was sated and I applaud this Canadian/New Zealander on what she has achieved. It was a novel that made me think, entertained me, encouraged my love of "whodunits", educated me about an obverse Victorian society in New Zealand.

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Readings

Above average
on Sep 16 2013

The Luminaries is at once a ghost story, a gripping mystery and an extraordinary piece of literary fiction...

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Readings

Above average
Reviewed by Luke May on Aug 22 2013

We are never sure who is telling the story, but it doesn’t matter because Catton’s characters talk, and talk and talk, breathing fire, lament and lust into this frontier idiom.

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Readings

Good
on Jun 09 2013

The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction, which more than fulfils the promise of The Rehearsal.

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Raging Biblioholism

Good
Reviewed by Raging Biblioholism on Mar 01 2014

This is a complex book – made all the more complex by the sensation that, despite its scope/ambition, it may well fade from me in all but the most general haunting terms.

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Beth Fish Reads

Below average
Reviewed by Beth F on Dec 05 2013

Because the novel unfolds from different points of view and zigzags through time, we read about the same key events several times. Unfortunately, the repetition began to drag long before I reached page 830...

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Literary Exploration

Below average
Reviewed by MICHAEL KITTO on Mar 15 2014

...it just went around and around in circles...I wanted to finish this book for book club but in the end, there are too many books to read and left this book with 600 pages to go. I’ve never really been good at abandoning books and I really felt like I had to finish this book but in the end it wasn’t working

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Quill & Quire

Good
on Jun 09 2014

The Luminaries is a novel that can be enjoyed for its engrossing entirety, as well as for the literary gems bestowed on virtually every page.

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Quill & Quire

Good
Reviewed by Sue Flinn on Nov 25 2013

A wink and nod to Victorian storytelling set during a mid-1860s gold rush on New Zealand’s South Island, The Luminaries is a beautifully wrought tale of intrigue, fuelled by greed and the secrets of the heart.

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Fantasy Book Critic

Below average
Reviewed by Liviu on Sep 08 2013

Also it is quite ambitious and with a great atmosphere indeed, but a more interesting setting - as the New Zealand gold rush of 1860's leaves me utterly cold - and more believable characters would have made "The Luminaries" a book for the ages, not the "ok, I read it, I can make a note and then forget it" novel it turned out to be.

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Bookmunch

Excellent
Reviewed by Valerie O’Riordan on Sep 16 2013

One way or the other, it’s good to see the literary spotlight swivel over to NZ, a land full of talented writers rather too much lacking in international coverage.

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ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Below average
Reviewed by Lisa Hill on Jan 21 2014

...I found The Luminaries to be rather a disappointment. I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if it hadn’t been so long, but when a book takes four solid days to read and reveals itself to be empty at the core, that’s tiresome.

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Musings of a Literary Dilettante's Blog

Good
Reviewed by musingsofaliterarydilettante on Oct 20 2013

At 832 pages it is the longest to win the Booker, but don’t be put off by the length. At the end, although I was completely satisfied, I hoping there might be more. All I can do now is sit back and admire the waxing of a major literary talent.

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Rivers I Have Known

Above average
Reviewed by Amritorupa Kanjilal on Feb 20 2014

Even as I lavish so much praise on The Luminaries, I know pretty certainly that it is not a book for everybody. It’s really long, needs a lot of patience and careful reading, and there is far too much dialogue and very little action.

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MBTB's Mystery Book Blog

Good
Reviewed by BARBARA TOM on Feb 09 2014

I am in awe of Catton’s ability to create such a novel. Such a novel novel, no less. She sets the tone in homage of books of the Victorian era but with more concision (if that can be said of an 800-page book) than those authors would.

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M Live

Above average
Reviewed by Yvonne Zipp on Nov 05 2013

"The Luminaries" is a fun house mirror of a novel set in an ornate Victorian frame. Bookworms will adore it, but this isn't a book to flip casually through in a night.

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Literary Hoarders

Below average
Reviewed by Jackie on Oct 11 2013

I liked this book– but just liked it. The fancy structure and zodiac tie-ins were really lost on me. I was more interested in the story and solving the mystery– 400 pages would have been enough.

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Literary Hoarders

Above average
Reviewed by Penny on Sep 19 2013

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.

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Dolce Bellezza

Good
Reviewed by Bellezza on Jan 27 2014

I am amazed at the skill with which Eleanor Catton has woven The Luminaries...Is it a mystery? Yes. Is it a finely crafted novel exquisitely written? Yes. Is it any surprise that it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize? No.

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Meaghan Walsh Gerard

Good
Reviewed by Meaghan Walsh Gerard on Nov 08 2013

I feel there isn’t much else I can add to the praise out there. The book is brilliant. It really is.

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Summer Reading Project

Below average
Reviewed by Annie Smith on Oct 15 2013

Just for sheer craft, this book is incredible. However, I think some people will get frustrated with this book. Even though it's cleanly written, the events in the book and their outcomes are anything but clean and tidy.

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Tutu's Two Cents

Above average
Reviewed by James Thurber on Dec 26 2013

Overall I enjoyed the book, and felt it was worth the effort, but I know that I will have to read it again to see everything I know I missed. This would actually be a book I would expect to be discussed, dissected and scrutinized at length in a graduate level English literature course.

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Savidge Reads

Below average
on Dec 10 2013

I have tried and tried, or struggled and struggled as the case may be, to love or at least like The Luminaries three times this year.

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Bookworm1858

Good
Reviewed by Bookworm 1858 on Jan 11 2014

I don't feel very qualified to delve into the literary qualities of this book but suffice it to say that I found it pretty approachable if one takes one's time. It would be hard to read all in one day unless that was literally all you had to do that day. But it is certainly worth curling up with for several evenings...

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Inside the Mind of a Biliophile

Good
Reviewed by Eustacia Tan on Dec 03 2013

While I didn't quite understand the connection to astrology/the stars, I thought this was an interesting read. There are a whole host of characters, which add intricacy and subplots, while the main mystery was interesting - that made the length of the book race by.

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Kevin from Canada

Above average
on Jun 09 2014

Catton uses the golden ratio when it comes to determining the length of her chapters. There are 12: the first is 360 pages long, the second 158, the third 104 — and then you come to the tenth at 8, the 11th 6, the last 3. While that makes for some heavy sledding in the first few sections, it does have an interesting side effect.

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http://wednesdaybookreview.wordpress.com

Below average
Reviewed by Arlene Somerton Smith on Mar 19 2014

I understand why this book received the prizes it did. The irony, the characters, the astrological chart/moon structure appealed to the artistic sentiments of the jurors. But I found the structure frustrating and the ending unsatisfying. I set the book down thinking, “Huh?” I don’t need to keep the book, and I don’t want to read it again.

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Jayne's Books

Above average
Reviewed by Melissa Wiebe on Mar 02 2014

To put it concisely, I didn't exactly love it, but I didn't exactly dislike it either. I haven't read other Booker winners, but I am hoping that Wolf Hall is a bit better.

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Selections from My Tower of Shame

Below average
Reviewed by Jaqueline Lademann on Oct 26 2013

This book is more of an intellectual exercise than a work of storytelling. It challenges the reader to question what we expect from a novel like this. For me I must admit that I’m not entirely convinced that the experiment worked.

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Lizzy's Literary Life

Above average
Reviewed by lizzysiddal on Jan 05 2014

I enjoyed too the packaging of the novel that is both reminiscent of its ancestors yet highly original. At times though the packaging got in the way and I found myself thinking, is this a case of all style and no substance?

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http://blog.shelfari.com

Good
Reviewed by Chris Schluep on Oct 15 2013

The Luminaries, which was an Amazon Best of the Month selection in Literature & Fiction, is part historical fiction, part mystery, and a whole lot of good writing.

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Follow the Thread Blog

Good
on Aug 25 2013

I finished The Luminaries grinning from ear to ear at the experience of having read a novel so completely and idiosyncratically realised. Moments like that are one reason I read books in the first place

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The Unexpected Twists and Turns Blog

Good
on Nov 28 2013

Eleanor Catton’s abilities as a writer are astounding. If this is what she produces at age 28 then I look forward to what she will write at 50, when most writers are just hitting their stride.

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http://www.civilianglobal.com

Below average
Reviewed by Neil Stewart on Jul 24 2013

The final section...reveals that Catton has taken 900 pages to tell a story that, albeit never less than tremendously enjoyable in her telling, was hackneyed even when Shakespeare employed it: the plight of the star-crossed lovers.

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Reader Rating for The Luminaries
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