Oh no, Tournament of Books, oh no

Oh no, Judge Fershleiser. You did not just knock out The Luminaries in round one for being old fashioned, detailed and wordy. I mean, it is those things but it is so much more.

The Luminaries is set in gold rush era New Zealand and revolves around a mystery: on a single night a man was killed, another disappeared and a prostitute appears to have attempted suicide. The book opens on a secret meeting of twelve wildly different men. Each is tangentially connected to the events in question and each is concerned about being implicated. The first half of the book is where Judge Fershleiser’s comments make sense – there are lots of characters with detailed appearance descriptions who are all exclaiming and convening and generally behaving like a game of Clue (or Cluedo, as we call it in the Antipodes). Everything is presented to the reader as the elaborate scene is set and, yes, things are often told and not shown.

The LuminariesBut as the story speeds up and the pieces start fitting together The Luminaries becomes so much more than a ‘Dead White Guy book’. The ‘old-fashioned’ aspects give way to shorter and shorter scenes, mixing elements of romance and the supernatural in a way that writes back to the very tradition of writing that Catton has set up so far. There is a sensitivity and insight into those exploited by the mainly white, male gold prospectors, including prostitute Anna, native New Zealander Te Rau Tauwhare and Chinese labourers Sook Yonsheng and Quee Long. More is presented without explanation and the elaborate detail falls away to reveal the true relationships of the book, those filled with love, friendship, ambivalence, suspicion and yearning. There are moments of such absolute beauty that I cried, not for the characters or relationships but for the writing and the construction that all built up to the end so perfectly. Oh and by the way, throughout the 832 pages the writing is IMMACULATE. Somehow Judge Ferschleiser didn’t mention that.

I didn’t read Hill William. And you know with all the apparent animal torture and sexual abuse and violence I’m just not going to. (It’s Salvage the Bones all over again.) I’m not even that pissed off that The Luminaries didn’t win. I’m more upset that all of its complexity and merit was dismissed, if not plain overlooked. There is so much more to it than Judge Fershleiser has conveyed. I’m going to go read it again and hope for the best tomorrow.


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