A Peopled Constellation: The Luminaries

Do you love not knowing? When you understand the basics of what happened in a plot, but you can feel that you’ve only begun to grasp the novel’s soul?


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Then you’ll love The Luminaries. I’m normally skeptical of books about mostly middle-aged white men, but I read an intriguing interview. A Booker Prize judge said that the judges have read the finalists 3 times by the time they choose a winner, so a novel has to have serious depth to reward three readings. As a person who likes a good deep read, I picked the book up.

First of all, you won’t understand most of what’s happening up front. You’re thrown into a country you know nothing about, with a complicated and multifaceted cast of characters who you will slowly get to know.

And every section (each of which covers only a day, with some flashing forward and back and stories-within-stories) begins with a star chart. The dramatis personae at the book’s front labels people as planets and influences. Each chart shows how they interact with one another. As someone who knows next to nothing about astrology, all I can say is that they were strangely compelling, and probably meant a lot to someone more knowledgeable than I.

The novel itself is so beautiful, so rich and interesting, that you don’t even care how much is being concealed from you. You puzzle over the mysteries, but you keep reading not just to find out the plot but to immerse yourself in the beautiful language, in the rich and strange world Catton evokes. It’s a compulsion, but not like that of a cheap thriller. It’s a deeper compulsion, something just as intense in its own way. It’s an attraction to wonder.

Music: Abigail Washburn, Crooked Still, Sarah Jarosz


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