In this book Eleanor Catton transports the reader back to the New Zealand gold rush of the mid 1860s. She weaves a story together using threads from many characters’ lives and the result is a richly detailed epic tale. The book starts with a gathering of twelve men who have assembled in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: the town’s wealthiest man has disappeared, a fortune is discovered in the home of a drunk, and a prostitute wakes up in prison with no memory of how she got there. Catton gradually reveals the complex connections between characters throughout the book, with many surprises along the way. The “wild west” feel of the gold rush is evident in secrets and lies held by many of the characters. The Luminaries takes the reader into the curious Victorian worlds of opium dens, banking, shipping, newspapers, fashion, the occult and hotels. This is one of those books which gives readers a history lesson as well as a great story. The details of the daily lives of the characters round out both the story and the history. I struggled through parts of this book due to its intensity and length, but I’m glad I did. I felt connected to the characters and keenly wanted to know their fate. In 2013 The Luminaries was awarded both The Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. The Luminaries is available in hardcover, eBook and Book Club in a Bag from the Thunder Bay Public Library.
Joanna Aegard is a Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.