(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
Sheryl Ubelacker of The Canadian Press spoke with Eleanor Catton in Vancouver after she won the 2013 Man Booker Prize in London and was about to trek on a promotional tour across Canada.
The Canadian-born Catton was awarded the Booker for fiction for “The Luminaries” (Little, Brown) an 832-page murder mystery set during a 19th-century gold rush in New Zealand, where she moved with her family at age six from London, Ont. Granta Books is the United Kingdom publisher and McClelland & Stewart the Canadian publisher.
Catton is the youngest person to receive the Man Booker Prize.
Writing “The Luminaries” was like putting a puzzle together, Catton told The Canadian Press. The characters and structure of the novel revolve around astrological charts cast for the story’s period in 1866.
The novel begins with Edinburgh-born Walter Moody, who having escaped a shipwreck arrives at a hotel in Hokitika near the gold fields of New Zealand, where he interrupts a private — and secret — meeting of 12 men. Their intertwined roles in the solving of a murdered gold prospector evolve from there.
Each character is given a personality stereotypical of an astrological sign, and the book is divided into 12 parts like the signs of the Zodiac. The title, “The Luminaries,” refers to the light-casting sun and light-reflecting moon.
“The other reason I like it as a title is the second half of the word is ‘aries,’ which is the first sign of the Zodiac,” Catton told the Canadian news agency.
While astrology doesn’t play a role in her day-to-day life, Catton said she finds its concepts intriguing.
“I think that it’s so much more interesting than as a predictive tool. I think a lot of people get stuck on that, this idea that astrology is an occultist practice that is basically people feeling around in the dark and telling you you’re going to meet a dark-haired stranger tomorrow and all this kind of stuff.
“That seems to be pretty silly. But as a system kind of engaged in self-commentary in a really interesting way and capable of producing some pretty complex internal harmonies and patterns, I think it’s a really interesting thing to spend a lot of time with.”
Examiner notes that Canton Books ordered an additional 100,000 copies printed minutes after the Man Booker award was announced. Canton also made the 45-page first chapter available on its website.
It begins “The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel” and the chapter ends, “Well, then, I shall endeavor to acquaint you, Mr. Moody, with the cause of our assembly.”
You turn the page and chapter two begins. Walter Moody begins to learn what the reader will learn during 832 pages of engrossing reading. Examiner suggests this is most likely not a fast read. But if you like long, involved complexity, you’ll feel at home with “The Luminaries.”
Catton, who is 28, was only 22 when she wrote “The Rehearsal,” which Adam Ross in The New York Times Book Review praised as “a wildly brilliant and precocious first novel” and Joshua Ferris called “a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel.”