The Luminaries is a gorgeously rich, cunningly architected story set in Gold-Rush New Zealand, in a West Coast town full of mud and hopeful miners, and a prostitute with flouncy dresses and an opium habit. The story is told in achingly slow pace, just like a 19th Century novel, and the detailed subtitles of each chapter continue the period feeling. As the story unfolds in multiple, often embedded flashbacks, each character’s life story comes to light.
It’s also 830 pages long, and can I recommend you invest your time in 830 pages? No, unless you just love the slow, deliberate pace of 19th Century novels and, perhaps, you have a very long flight ahead of you — ideally San Francisco to Auckland, transferring to a South Island flight. (You will land expecting to see long dresses and miners’ outfits, guaranteed!) To give you an idea of the pace, the first day of the story, January 27th, 1866, takes a full 400 pages to narrate. Of course that’s with many, many flashbacks, but also many repeats and summaries, making sure the reader is not lost, very 19th Century in spirit — but this reader got quite a bit impatient, and bored, waiting for all the repeats to unfold. And when all is said, the story is intriguingly tangled but it’s essentially the story of a young woman betrayed into prostitution. Haven’t we had our fill, and more, of those? The book is like a beautiful antique reproduction, beautiful but why not buy a Noguchi instead?