Study Guide

The Luminaries Introduction

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The Luminaries Introduction

When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars

Better dust off that old Hair record, Shmoopers—understanding all those far out references to astrology might come in handy about now. No, it's not quite the dawning of the Age of Aquarius; it's Eleanor Catton's 2013 Booker Prize-winning novel, The Luminaries.

We'll give it to you straight: This novel is kind of a tease. It ultimately denies readers access to the whole enchilada—er, details—behind some of its strange happenings. If you prefer the kind of mystery where everything is all wrapped up nice and tidy at the end with no loose ends à la Scooby Doo…well, you might end up finding out how far you can personally throw an 800-page book at the end of this one.

But don't worry: It's more ecstasy than agony with this behemoth of a book. Even when it denies us answers—after making us slog through 800 pages with the promise of getting them (we're not bitter or anything)—it's hard not to enjoy the ride.

And really, is that so shocking? After all, the book has hidden treasure, murder, conspiracies, romance, sex, and a super clever (and complicated) structure that involves matching up characters to planets and astrological signs. Jayden and Willow Smith would be proud.

It's so invested in the planetary and zodiac stuff, in fact, that the lengths of the book's twelve sections mimic the lunar cycle, "waning" from a full 300+ pages in Part I to one page in Part XII. Oh, and the number of chapters in each section goes from twelve in Part I down to 1 in the last part. Pretty clever, huh?

Sure, we never really find out how the central murder happens, or whether Staines gets shot "for reals" or if it's a supernatural occurrence—but who cares? You'll be thinking about the book and trying to piece together your own thoughts, theories, and observations for days, and that's just kind of fun in and of itself.

We've gotta admit, even we aren't totally sure about everything that happens in this story, but just like those vagrant children who lived in a train, who doesn't love a good mystery?

What is The Luminaries About and Why Should I Care?

If you've ever suspected that the world revolves around your angsty teen love affair, then this book will probably appeal to you—since, at the end of the day, when all the intrigue, violence, and greediness surrounding gold is over, it's really the love affair between Anna and Emery that emerges as having been central all along. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

It's kind of surprising that the novel evolves into a love story, since so much of the book is focused on greed and wealth and what it does to people—we were actually kind of expecting to end up with a pretty cynical message, by the end. Instead, though, we get the sense that family relationships, love, friendship, and interpersonal connections can actually triumph over greed and other nasty things. Whodathunk?

Sure, being an adult involves opening your eyes and diving into some of life's less fun activities (like finding a way to pay your own rent and outsmart vindictive Chinese drug dealers), but Catton's book is a good reminder that at the end of the day, it all comes back to relationships. As Captain and Tennille once said—love will keep us together.

The Luminaries Resources


Whatta Man (Booker Prize)
Check out the official Man Booker Prize site for more details about Catton and the book.

Movie or TV Productions

It's Not a Movie Yet…But It Will Be!
Producer Andrew Woodhead is turning it into a miniseries.

Articles and Interviews

Yup, Other People Finished the Book, Too …
Check out The Guardian's review of the doorstopper novel.

Hokitika Homecoming
Written after Catton's book signing in Hokitika, this article offers some cool details (including the one character based on a real person) and talks about how faithful Catton's historical stuff is.

It's A Male Author's World?
Catton talks sexism in literature and negative/bullying reactions to her writing.

A Not-So Blank Slate
This rave review from Slate digs deep into Catton's ambitious structure and plotting.

How About A Little Back-And-Forth?
If can't get enough Catton or luminary analysis, check out this interview.


Overachievers Anonymous
Watch Catton talk about how awesome winning the Booker Prize is.

Not Exactly the Oscars
But yeah, it's still pretty cool to see the moment Catton actually won.


In Case You Didn't Finish the Book…
… You can grab your pillow, rest your head, and listen to Catton read from the book.

Catton on a Hot BBC Show
Catton talks about her novel on the BBC Review Show.

Listen to a snippet/preview of the book put out by the Booker Prize people to generate excitement for the awards.


Meet The Youngest Man Booker Prize Winner Ever
Yup, she's a literary prodigy at 28.

Catton Lifting Weights
How can she hold both the book and the prize at the same time? Our arms hurt just thinking about it.

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