Luminaries strikes gold

October 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for fiction, the last to be run under the traditional rules. At only 28 years old, she is the youngest ever winner of the prize. As “intricately structured as an orrery,” in the words of this year’s chair of the judges, Robert Macfarlane, “it requires a huge investment of time from the reader, but the dividends it offers are astronomical.” (That noise you can hear is Sir Patrick Moore turning in his grave.) One of this year’s judges, Stuart Kelly, suggested The Luminaries was “like a Kiwi Twin Peaks”, while Adam Roberts described it as being “like a scientifically precise, alt-historical narrative of the Skylab programme written by Lawrence Durrell.”  I suspect at least one of them must be insane. I’m afraid this year’s judges were on a very different wavelength to me. My first attempt to read The Luminaries ended on the second page when this sentence compelled me to give up:

Moody was by nature impatient of any deficiencies in his own person – fear and illness both turned him inward – and it was for this reason that he very uncharacteristically failed to assess the tenor of the room he had just entered.

To be fair, I think that, from the shortlisted titles, the judges made the right decision. Jim Crace and Colm Tóibín would be deserving winners but both have written better books – think they should have won in the 1990’s with Quarantine and The Blackwater Lightship – whereas The Luminaries is probably Eleanor Catton’s magnum opus. It’s just I don’t think I can grind through 832 pages of astrologically long-winded pastiche, even with the extra time that not being able to afford internet access brings. Oh progress wherefore art thou?


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Folly Afoot? Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014

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