The Luminaries

In the long dark evenings of insomnia, when my brain is spinning idly with unhelpful thoughts and I thrash about alone on the spare bed, I take up a book and try to read my way to the morning. Unfortunately, my current read is The Luminaries, the 2013 Booker winner.

Books that win the Booker prize are usually either very short and depressing (The Sense Of An Ending) or very long (and depressing) (Midnight’s Children). The Luminaries isn’t depressing, but it’s 800 pages of hardback lump, of which I’m only a quarter of the way through, so in fact it may be horribly depressing for the remaining 600 pages. For now, I’m not sure what it is.

The structure is a little difficult. The tale is told to a new visitor to a gold mining town in New Zealand, from a variety of different viewpoints, moving backwards and forwards in time. It’s clear most people are self-deceiving or untrustworthy, there are secrets, public shames and deceptions aplenty, all of which means when you gulp down thirty pages at a time when already exhausted, it’s a steep slope to traverse.

Perhaps it’s a long and elaborate metaphor, which rewards rereading. I don’t like the sound of that as that means 1,600 pages of reading, but perhaps it will be a good bedtime story for our daughter one day. There are valuable lessons for the office: if you have to conceal the truth, telling an incomplete truth may save you having to reveal more. There are also less valuable lessons for the office, like how prostitution was treated in the nineteenth century in New Zealand, and there are lessons that may be applicable, like how to secure budgetary funding for the use of convict labour. All these things will be of more or less value, depending on the sort of office you work in.

It may be a heavy read (physically as well as in the recondite sentence structures and vocabulary) but there is a list of characters at the start to help you keep track: miners, shipping agents, a single Maori, some Chinese labourers, an Irish priest with bad teeth, and so on. I do feel that as well as an integral bookmark the book could have come with a notepad as well to aid in keeping things clear, but perhaps this bewildering series of characters and misremembered events is also meant to teach us something.

Maybe it’s meant to teach me to make notes. When I finish, I think I’ll try to say what the plot was, and what everyone was really up to. Only three quarters to go…

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