The Luminaries

Filed in Horoscopes

The Luminaries Eleanor Catton

At one level, Catton’s The Luminaries is an old-fashioned mystery. It is a pacey and beautifully written tale of love, lust, greed and murder, following Edinburgh-born Walter Moody trying to make his fortune during the gold rush on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island in 1866. The Luminaries wholly deserves its longlist status, and would be a worthy winner.
At another level, however, the structure of The Luminaries is based upon astrology. Yes, astrology. But the tome is far more complex than Mystic Meg’s column. Catton used charts from Sky & Telescope and a software program called Stellarium to plot the stars and planets during the course of when the narrative takes place, with characters linked to the heavenly bodies.


There are 12 “stellar” characters who correspond to the Zodiac signs and seven “planetary” characters, all grounded by the “earth” character, Crosbie Wells, the murdered man whom the mystery revolves around.


We Love This Book

My friend Not-The-Typical-Virgo makes a major point of reading every damn book even vaguely mentioned in conjunction with the Booker Prize but other than Wolf Hall, i can’t hack them.  My Mercury in Aries craves juicy auto-bios, psycho self-dev books, Greek Lyric Poetry, anything but the current book du jour.

BUT obviously i am making an exception in the case of The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. It’s just been long-listed for the Booker and the author is (i think) the youngest to ever be thus honored. She’s 27, just short of her first Saturn Return.

Some reviewers are getting all twee and weird about the fact she has under-pinned a work of literary fiction with astrology. They’re citing “patchouli” which is really out of touch, Ylang-Ylang is this century’s patchouli.  In other cases, they’re pointedly using the term “astronomy” not “astrology.”

“Skepticism,” said George Santayana, “is the chastity of the intellect.”  Just because a book draws upon an ancient, complex and metaphysical belief system, involving the Zodiac and the very pantheon our days of the week are named after, people have to make sneering references to hippydom?  Ridiculous. Have they ever read The Wasteland? Or Keats? Ted Hughes? Ovid? Stuffed with occult and astrological references.

If i had to make a bet as to which ethos would have the most traction or longevity, i’d bet on astrology over snobby book reviewers, wouldn’t you?

Thoughts? Also, has anyone read this?


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68 thoughts on “The Luminaries

  1. I’m absolutely loving this book. It’s deliciously clever. I’m not too sure of the astrological symbolism, maybe it’s too cryptic for me to work out just yet. If each of the Crown council men represents a house then does each of the planets represent one of the other central characters? Also, Neptune was only just being discovered when the book was written, so it makes sense it was left out, but Uranus was discovered about 80 years previously so I feel like it should be in the charts, although maybe it still hadn’t been incorporated into astrology?

  2. I love reading new writing and I’m always interested in reading new writers – Mercury in Toro in 4th house – I did a modern english major in my BA back in the 1980s. We’d have a book a week to read per subject (so if two subjects, two books per week) and I was thrilled by the prospect of laying by the uni pool (doing laps as well), working on my tan and ‘studying’ at the same time. Had the tan, the figure and GPA that evidenced the ‘balance’ between these activities.

    I also like reading bios and some psych stuff – don’t like gruesome books or movies either.

    Love when a book takes you someplace else on the first page…

    This book is on the list to buy with this week’s pay cheque.

  3. Reptilian brains.

    Mostly I don’t like patchouli unless it’s mixed with something else and I can’t tell, just some spicy addition. Ylang-ylang, definitely not.

    Aromatherapy products are good for the mood for sure.

    And as for all the people who don’t get it, and by IT, (whatever you want it to be), they just don’t get it.

  4. I bloody LOVE patchouli. What’s the problem with it ?!? Mixed with Vertiver and Rose Geranium it is the very essence of an emerald forest. You could use it to go hunting unicorns….

    I don’t read novels anymore, except for Terry Pratchett and Georgette Heyer. I have a limited tolerance for people getting murdered or being mean or horrible, which seems to be what most modern literature is about. Stuffed full of people I wouldn’t give the time of day to at a party, so I’m hardly going to waste several hours in their presence in a book…

    This book sounds interesting but…nah..

    I’ve got limited time and energy for sceptics these days. They can believe what they like, as long as I don’t have to listen to them talking about it.

    Most of them betray an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the things they’re mocking and I simply cannot be arsed educating them any more. I’ve moved beyond it. I’d much rather find like-minded people (like you lot) and further my knowledge with an interesting discussion; than have a tedious disagreement with someone who wants to argue about whether or not Pluto is a planet (as if that’s somehow relevant to the Astrology)

    Did m’ Reiki II over the weekend and had a series of fucking OUT THERE experiences, so I’m not having with sceptics. Bugger’em I say. Bugger’em millennium hand and shrimp. Dammit. Patchouli is lovely.

    • I have to say, I’ve come across a few good smell patchouli oils recently so I never knew it could smell closer to say sandalwood..sort of earthy but woody and clean. I have a small vial of that particular oil. Most of the patchouli that circulates in the U.S. smells like sour, rotten or putrefying dirt. There is either a QC problem with the essential oils or it is from a different region. Maybe it is a different species of patchouli? idk. Then you compound this with people who use it as a substitute for hygiene. This makes patchouli unfortunately very memorable as a terrible fragrance, but it in a lot of. ways it’s not real patchouli’s fault.

    • Another Georgette Heyer fan! I love the duels and elopements by carriage at midnight and the villains with their lips curled in a sneer and the heroes and heroines with laughing gray (always gray) eyes.

    • yes Patchouli always smelled like fresh earth & autumn leaves to me! I’m similar re:novels, Georgette Heyer & Pratchett! Charles De Lint. Can’t do harrowing, but am loving Heyer’s detective/murder novels. The modern murder novels trigger anxiety & nightmares in me.

      Mmm sceptics, I always find astrology sceptics think we don’t believe in astronomy. Yeahhh…. no.

  5. astrology will always be enduring. We will see who has the last laugh. patchouli generally sucks esp if peeps are using it to mask B.O. instead of bathing.

    BtW Mystic i love the graphic on the Daily scopes! It is so true! Almost every Scorp I know minus the vegan or health-food ones love eating at Arby’s! I can’t figure it out. Uncanny!

    • Arby’s Lol! It’s the roast beast & jamocha shakes; before I was food wise, it was my drive through de jour. Full of hunger & nostalgia a few months ago I tried it on sans the bun, but that meat gave me the shits all night. Saturn in Scorp has effectively renovated my guts.

  6. While we’re on the topic of good astro books NOT written by astrologers…
    I just finished THE FATED SKY, Astrology in History. LOVED it. Very little mythologizing but loads of juicy details about the medieval astrologers, especially.

    Note the title “in History,” so this book spends very little time with undocumented use of astrology, so don’t expect speculation about the earliest astrologers or much about today’s crop of astrologers (the author is not a Sun Sign Astro fan, he makes clear). And it’s heavy on Traditional Astrology (horary/mundane). But delicious, delicious stories about masters of the art in an age when astrology was a serious science.

    If you’ve got some basic astro down, it’s an easy read –and a revelation. Otherwise it will require a little bit of side work to understand the some of the concepts. Me? Converted me to horary as my next field of serious study. I knew I was leaning in that direction, but I’ve fallen flat on that spot now. 🙂


  7. I haven’t read Catton’s book yet, but imagine I will do so when Mercury retrogrades and I am given some quiet time for me. That’s the plan.

  8. Thoughts:

    How I love to skewer snooty attitudes whose owners think that they are above a concept, or a theme, or an idea.

    Squillions of “out of fashion” ideas exist as the foundations of how we live today. Imo it’s cooler to honour and, well, step into such ideas, not poo-pooh them. THAT to me is neither cool nor high-minded. everything is valid!

    I feel so strongly about this. not just re use of Astro. I mean, anything that is seen as naff by some. I kind of make a point of dressing like a bum sometimes, or doing something trashy just to undermine any growing sense that I’m too good for something. Not saying we can’t discriminate in our tastes, but to write something else off is to miss out on seeing the little piece of grit that becomes the next pearl. etc etc etc.

    I”m down with snobbery, but it has to be the RIGHT kind of snobbery.

    Lastly I too avoid les books du jour, but I have loved every Booker prize winner I have read.

  9. She was on “The Drum” yesterday. Very poised, reflective and articulate. I think that the book is over 800 pages. Great effort!

    • I don’t know about Not The Typical Virgo, but I was an English major at university and my Merc’s in Libra, 3rd house… literary fiction, nonfiction, any kind of semantic discussion of literary history, and especially any kind of literary analysis is my jam to the max….
      Mystic, can we do a list of “what to study if your Mercury is in…”?

      • I’m Libran with libra on 3rd cusp, mercury near sun in 2nd and I majored in english literature. I also enjoy reading about math philosophy and things arcane.

      • Ooh that would be such a fun column!

        I’m Merc VERY early (as in 0 degrees) Pisces, 7th house. I read just about everything, but have a special love for poetry or anything hyper-romantic or magical realism, like Marquez. And the Russians. I love the Russians.

        • Ahhh, see now I understand why i’m not fond of poetry. No Pisces in my chart at all. Maybe I’ll watch for mercury in pisces and see if i get urges to read poetry. Or Marquez, who is not my favorite author of all time.

      • I think it was me that was talking about literary history… no, I mean nonfiction books that put classic works in the perspective of history.
        Example: i’m currently devouring “Inside the VIctorian Home” by Judith Flanders. It takes a lot of its information about how the Victorian home & family was structured and run from novels of that time period and brings a whole new way of looking at those novels (like Dickens and Austen and Bronte, etc).

        • that would be really interesting. understanding the environments that produced such works in the first place. I’d like to see it applied to non-fiction works as well, e.g. the ‘great economists’ , philosophers etc

      • Hi Pi, no I guess I mean “highbrow’ fiction – the sort of thing that gets on the Booker lists – as opposed to, well, crap I guess (which I’m sure has it’s place, just not on my shelf!). Having said that I don’t mind a fantasy romp either 🙂

    • My Mercury is in virgo (along with my sun, mars, venus) and in the 3rd house.
      I was an English major in college and have always loved to read and write. I read a lot of literary fiction in college and enjoyed it…but now that I just read for pleasure I gravitate more towards fantasy than heavy stuff. That could be my moon-conjunct-neptune more than my mercury though.

      • Wow, so similar! My sun, mars, & venus are 2nd house Virgo and my Mercury in Libra is right near the cusp of the 3rd house.
        I love fantasy too, but my moon is square neptune… is that a conflicted love, maybe? Or a guilty pleasure?

        • oh my god we are so similar! my sun and mars are also in the 2nd. and by your name, your Lilith is in Leo…so conjunct your ascendent? I know that because mine is there too and we must have freakishly close birth times to have our suns in 2nd. Also maybe even born the same year? I was 1987.

          This is getting a little crazy haha.
          Anyway, yeah, neptune’s really dreamy and watery and totally loves fantasy!

          • hahaha yes, same year. holy cow. 9/9/1987, 3:28 AM.
            i wish lilith were conjunct my ascendant… how incredibly cool that would be… i should be wannabelilith instead of leoninelilith! they’re off by 10 degrees :-/
            astrotwins ftw!

            • no, that’s still close!

              9/3/1987, 2:56am (my birth certificate says 3am but I doubt I’m a leo rising haha).

              yay, astrotwins! 🙂

      • I love books all kinds my Mercury is in Virgo 11th House, especially books about eccentric, bizarre characters and artists lives.

    • Calypso, for me it’s the ‘poetry as prose’ . . . also, the out-of-the-box thinking of the authors. Plot doesn’t matter much to me . . . less important than hitting those passages where literary/philosophical flight takes your breath away. But then, I used up nearly all of my undergraduate elective courses taking Chaucer, Semantics, acquisition of language. I’m into a creative turn of phrase which tells us something in a new, fresh way, or pure expression which takes you by surprise.

      You might enjoy some of the translations of literary fiction. It’s a good way to get into the heads of people in a different country, good in advance of travel . . . such as the University of Nebraska Press translations of European lit fiction. If you read a rotation of popular fiction/mystery, alternating with really good lit fiction or comparable memoirs, you’ll probably just feel the difference. If pressed for time or wanting something lighter, I’ll read a good young adult fiction before most of the adult pop titles. Or even browse children’s books for the illustrations/art.

      I don’t read as much as I’d like now, so experiencing the downside of choosing more obscure titles – missing current cultural cues and sometimes can’t compare notes with friends. But for me, these genres are just more fun and I feel as though I learn more from them.

      But hey, it’s all out there for a reason. Enjoy the journey.

      • hey, cool to see so many responses guys 🙂

        I love the poetry as prose stuff too DG! Or used to, when I had time to read it….

        I have a eng lit degree btw, and my Merc is in LIBRA too (to some responses above), in the 5th.

          • interesting – would Merc in Scorp would be a bit no-nonsense! bad for fiction by definition, lol.

            Maybe my Merc in Libra loves the beauty of good writing but increasingly must battle with my Sun/Neptune in Scorp for it to be considered worthy of my attention/time.

            I can’t stand writing which is neither well-crafted or interesting. Blergh. Would rather look out a window. I have been known to throw a book across a room 🙂

            • Crab Merc 5th House. Non Fiction over Fiction. Children’s books to see the illustrations. Fiction needs to tap an emotional reaction…make me laugh or can’t put it down. Get to the point and extrapolate it.
              Bless you CS for tossing the books. If I own them I destroy them.

            • no-nonsense! 😆 Bingo!…. Cap Asc might have something to do with it too. I really hate stream of consciousness writing, Drives me mental.. well, drives my Mars in Virgo mad! I do like a good story but get bored with tiresome lengthy descriptions. Get to the point already!!! I don’t have all day!

              Of course my venus in Libra LOVES the beauty of good writing. I swoon at well written emails, texts… any form of communication. But with Gem NN and moon in Saggo, I have a short attention span and as I get older time is of the essence! (Saturn ruled) and I realise how little I know and how much I want to know. So I’d rather learn a little bit of this and little bit of that and I need to know what’s going on in the world. Not interested, nor do I have time to get lost in someone’s else’s imaginings.

              That covers it, I think 🙂

            • So you think it’s my Cap moon ripping up the book. I think it’s my Leo Saturn roaring out the rage into the physical. Nothing beats Keats in the sunshine. Quest my Soul into the morrow.

            • Of course it’s a good thing. It gives you character… and who wants to be a typical anything?

              Besides, I’m a little partial to Cap energy 🙂

            • Ah I remember that comment, I best be gettin on that bandwagon. Does sound a little “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”. Sweetpea Swayze!

            • I miss not having a Scorp friend. Had a few over the years and I miss that
              Scorpio sympatico.

  10. I have been picking this up and putting it down and wondering what draws me to it for months at the bookshop near my house. Yesterday I found out it has the zodiacal link – and I LOVE that it’s the ACTUAL astro as it stood in the time the novel is set in, using precession or whatever they call it. I saw an interview with the author yesterday and I suspect if any of the naysayers were to be within hearing of her, she would be able to disarm them with her clearly apparent, yet understated intellect. I love to see people have success at their chosen craft, especially at an early age. This sitch is satisfying to me on many levels.

  11. My interest is piqued! Sounds amazing. In an interview with The Age, Catton says: “I like to think of the zodiac as having a lot in common with the Greek pantheon: less of a thing to be believed in, and more of a repository of cultural knowledge and history that is archetypal, and mythic, and responsive to close study.”
    I like that; ‘more of a repository of knowledge and history that is archetypal’.

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