So I sort of didn’t like (at all) Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Sure, sure, it won the 2013 Booker Prize. As if a prize committee has never been wrong.
I tried. I really did. 350 pages worth of trying (it’s a 700 odd page book – actually not odd, hold that thought) and I quit. Sure, my quitting this book is indicative of larger patterns in my life (I haven’t yet found a hobby I won’t quit after six months of being totally enraptured: rock climbing! quilting! karate!), but in this instance the book deserved to be quit. I’ll illuminate (ha! get it?) the problems, but first I want to think about why we read books we aren’t enjoying or don’t find meritorious/worthy of reading. Is it masochism? Some sense that because it won a Booker I have to be an idiot for not enjoying it (let’s not discount this as a possibility)? The expectation that maybe it will get better? The feeling that you’ve already committed so much that it would be a waste to stop now? <– this definitely applies to marathon running
So what was my problem? Why wasn’t I the kind of reader who swooned for this piece of historical fiction? There was too much. Too much writing, too much plot, too many characters, too many threads, too many Ideas (like the page counts of chapters should mirror the phases of the moon?). Too little to care about – what was this book about if not solving three weird coincidences? I’m not all that interested in coincidences. Or why they happen. Or for 700 pages. Winding, weaving, blerg. Just… too much (and not like it was thematically interested in ideas of “excess” so I could appreciate the form/content blend – just… too much.)
I should end by saying I didn’t hate all of it. Having played “Industry: The New Zealand Game” on the instance of N. I was familiar with the history of the gold rush and so I enjoyed feeling like a reader-in-the-know (clearly I should have been familiar with this history as a Person Living in the World, but my sense of world history and geography is patchy and for this I am sorry). I enjoyed the mood of the book – I was persuaded by the ill-omens and the murky murk that nothing good was going to happen.