I was probably the only one in the room who felt the tension in the moment before The Luminaries was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize. However, the other members of our graphics class were left in no doubt about the magnificent win by Eleanor Catton. Eleanor is the youngest person to win this prestigious literary award, being only 28. She is only the second kiwi ever to have won, the first winner being Kerri Hulme, who won in 1985 with her novel The Bone People. Watch this clip of the announcement, and tell me your spine doesn’t tingle!
The Luminaries is set in 19th century New Zealand, at the time of the gold rush in a small town on the West Coast of the South Island called Hokitika. I have made several visits to Hokitika, so this story feels close to home, but since I began reading The Luminaries I want to go back and really sniff around, maybe I will save the ending of the book to read in Hoki. There is something almost 4 dimensional about reading a book in a place that is very relevant to either the story of the author. I remember spending many weekends in Broadstairs, one time home of Charles Dickens. I loved to visit Bleak House (as it became known), where Dickens wrote David Copperfield.
Eleanor Catton’s language and writing style in The Luminaries is reminiscent of Charles Dickens. The narrative has a very Victorian feel to it, lots of telling, as was the mood of the era. Now it is very much all show not tell, but Catton does both and does them brilliantly. The book is so well written, I believe it would make a great movie. It would be hard for a good director to go wrong with The Luminaries, which was also the case with Lord of the Rings in my opinion. How exciting it would be, to have the movie filmed on our island. Here is a link to a wee look at how the news is going down in Hokitika:
I am totally enthralled by the book, life being so busy at the moment means I have been forced to savour the story in small snack size portions. I cannot help but linger over some of the phrases, I particularly love the characterisation of a young and proud Maori man called Te Rau Tauwhare. This thought of his grabbed me:
He would not sell pounamu. For one could not put a price upon a treasure, just as one could not purchase mana, and one could not make a bargain with a god. Gold was not a treasure — this Tauwhare knew. Gold was like all capital, in that it had no memory: its drift was always onward, away from the past.
Pounamu is a unique form of jade, or greenstone, found in the rivers on the South Island of New Zealand, and especially around Hokitika It is said to be harder than steel and is a highly valued part of Māori culture. The Māori believe that pounamu has special powers that strengthen as the stone ages and is passed down from generation to generation. This is what is being referenced in the above quote. Mana is a Polynesian word which is hard to translate, but the closest I can come up with, is ‘life force’.
The Luminaries is moving fast. Pre-orders are selling out before they arrive in our local bookshop. Happily I got my copy a few weeks ago. Even the cover is perfect with it’s vintage, stained look.I will be writing more on The Luminaries as I read, I also want to explore the whole astrological symbolism in the book. Look out for more posts.