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The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

"The Luminaries" is a world of history with a magical atmosphere and timeless human destinies. The novel is taking place during the gold rush in New Zealand, where no one is flawless and nothing is as it seems. The character Walter Moody is coming to Hokitika, a town on the west cost, in 1866 to dig for gold. In the hotel he meets twelve men from different levels of society without, apparently, too much in common. He thinks the men are there for a reason, and are very aware of his presence, because they seem to try a little too hard to not react and notice him when he enters the door. Details such as a man reading a book, but never turning the pages, is creating a suspicious and strange atmosphere.

Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 i Canada, but the family moved to New Zealand. She earned the Man Booker Prize for the book in 2013, with two records - she is the youngest prizewinner, with the thickest book.

"The Luminaries" is about som incidents - a man, found dead in his home with a fortune, the disappearance of a rich man, and a prostitute, almost killed by too much opium. Letters to unknown relatives, dresses with gold and other secrets are telling a complicated story. In a small society, no one is left unaffected by these events, and suspicion is growing.

The book is reminding of Agatha Christie's locked room-style, where the guilty is among a number of people, all known to the reader. There are twenty characters with different professions such as politician, opium dealer, journalist, priest, goldsmith, pimp and prostitute. They all contribute with pieces to the puzzle, but the characters are complex. Different sides of their personalities are shown, constantly, depending on the first person narrative. Catton's world is hard and the characters are flawed as a result. There are many psychological factors and destinies, as timeless as convincing. Thus, the book is so much more than a mystery and an investigation.

To show characteristics from different perspective is an interesting style, to make the story evolve. Catton is using different time periods to reveal clues, and intertwines people and events perfectly. She uses time for the dramaturgy in an impressive way. The reader has to keep up when the characters secrets are hinted at and the story unfolds. The key is what the secrets might imply.

The novel is carefully crafted, and Catton's master degree in creative writing is not surprising, at all. She has a unique style and frames the story in a unique way, beginning every chapter with the characters zodiac signs and connection to the planets of the solar system, something that obviously reveals parts of the characters personalities if you are competent in astrology. To place the story in history is giving the book yet another dimension, considering prose and expressions, something Catton is a master of. Catton manages the historical technique and tone. The book resembles a 1800's novel on a wast series of levels. However, the difference is that novels back then had morals and she doesn't moralize. She is objective to everything from corruption to prostitution. 

However, the book demands something from the reader. To be able to get the broad spectrum of the story, a concentrated, attentive and active reader is needed. There are many characters and time periods to remember. It's more than 1100 pages. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel heavy.

What's interesting is that despite it taking place in the 1800's, the themes about human destinies like loneliness, abuse and the fact that we are products of our surroundings are timeless. The result is a special reading experience.

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