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.
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?