It’s not even a novel in the normal sense, but rather a mass confabulation that evaporates in front of us, an astrological divination waning like the moon, the first section 360 pages long (or are those degrees?), the last a mere sliver. But it’s a sliver that delivers … A score of major characters take turns as protagonist. They headline in set pieces and protracted scenes, suffer shootings and poisonings, enact strategic whoring, survive storms at sea, find treasure sewn in dresses, lose the treasure, find it again … The Luminaries is a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new.
The book’s astrology-based structure does not exactly clarify anything. Its Piscean quality, she writes in an opening note, ‘affirms our faith in the vast and knowing influence of the infinite sky’ … Here on Earth, The Luminaries is more baffling. The story begins on what is apparently a dark and stormy night (find this witty if you must), that of Jan. 27, 1866. Walter Moody, one of the book’s principals, has escaped a shipwreck to arrive at the Crown Hotel in Hokitika, New Zealand … This book is well past its midpoint — that is, at about Page 500 — before it truly begins to click. Its later, increasingly breathless sections have the suspenseful option of finally, at long last, putting all these pieces together.
...astoundingly complicated and almost defies explanation … The 12 parts of the novel...wane like the moon: Each part is roughly half the length of the section that preceded it. Part 1 is 358 pages long. Part 12? Two … Throughout the novel, Catton shifts perspective among the dozen luminaries — as well as her other characters. She has created an erudite, omniscient 19th-century sort of narrator … Everyone in The Luminaries is hoping to get rich quick, and it’s a dog-eat-dog world where almost no one can be trusted and almost no one is telling the truth. At least not the whole truth. But the key to following the story is to try to follow the money. The result is a finely wrought fun house of a novel. Enjoy the ride.