Book Review | The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

17 January 2020

I love reading long books. I love epic stories that span well over 500 or even 1000 pages. With long books, I get so much more attached to the characters and so much more invested in a story if it's done well. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is a long book that had purpose on every single page and could not have been any longer or shorter than it was. It uses its 800 pages well.

This is a historical fiction book taking place in New Zealand during its gold rush. I haven't ever read a book set in New Zealand, and so this unique time and place was initially what drew me toward this novel. However, it turned out to be so much more than a simple historical fiction novel. There's mystery, intrigue, and a dash of mysticism and astrology that make this book so special.

There are well over 13 important characters in this book that all play a part in the mysterious circumstances that take place in the story. A reclusive hermit dies, an extremely wealthy man disappears, and an opium-addicted prostitute attempts suicide all in one day.

In this book every single line is important in order to piece together what happened. It's not a book you can skim. The plot is expertly crafted, and in my opinion, is paced nearly perfectly. The lives of the many characters are woven together beautifully and subtly throughout the whole book, coming together in the end seamlessly.

This is a story that takes time to get into. Eleanor Catton does not simply tell the story to you, this is a book you have to work for in order to get the full impact of the end. As you read more, you can begin to see the reason behind the exposition and seemingly unnecessary details. Pieces begin to go together, more questions arise, and before you know it, you're completely hooked into the complicated lives and connections of the characters.

Besides the plot and the characters, I absolutely loved Eleanor Catton's writing style. I read a blurb for this book that described the writing as a parody of a Victorian classic novel, and I couldn't agree more! If someone had told me that this book was written in the 1850's I would have no reason to think they were lying. The writing so beautifully imitates the style of the time the story is set in. It gives a sense of ambiance to the historical setting as a whole without being pretentious. I underlined so many passages that were just so awe-inspiringly beautiful. I have never been more jealous of an author's descriptive voice.

I understand that a lot of people don't tend to like this book because it's hard to get into, and I get it. I think some people who try to read this give up because there are several sections that are heavy with exposition, the writing style is extremely dense, and there are a lot of characters to keep up with. But all these aspects are ultimately why I, personally, ended up loving this book, and why I hope more people give it a chance.

This book completely stole my heart, and in the end the intimidating length of it was lost in my mind as I got swept up in the engrossing story. I was so sad when I turned the last page. This was an amazing book to start my year with.

Rating: ★
"We spend our entire lives thinking about death. Without that project to divert us, I expect we would all be dreadfully bored. We would have nothing to evade, and nothing to forestall, and nothing to wonder about. Time would have no consequence." -- Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries


  1. Wow, that quote at the end is so thoughtful and inspiring! I don't normally like long historical fiction novels, but The Luminaries sounds like a beautiful one... I'll have to read it soon ;) <3

    1. Even if you don't like long historical fiction, I definitely think this one is worth trying! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if you read it!

  2. Oh this book sounds so good! Unfortunately I don't have the attention span or focus for big books that I need to READ read :( I get 3 pages in and then shelve it for ever. Someday though. Someday I'll be absolutely snowed in for a week and I'll read it all.

    Hanne ||

    1. I totally understand, but you should definitely try this one out sometime!