Study Guide

The Luminaries Tone

By Eleanor Catton


Wise and Grandiose

As we've already discussed in the "Narrator Point of View" section, the narrator takes a kind of uber omniscient perspective on everything that happens in the novel, not only weaving in and out of characters' minds at various points, but also commenting on the astrological and planetary movements that are related to/influencing/symbolic of what's happening with the characters.

Given the scope of what the narrator claims to know and see, it's not really surprising that the tone of the narration is pretty much larger than life. The quickie chapter that eases us from Part I to Part II really gives us a great example of the tone the narrator adopts in schooling the reader on how the cosmos relates to the characters' life changes over the last three weeks:

…the planets have changed places against the wheeling canvas of the stars. The Sun has advanced one-twelfth along the tilted wheel of her ecliptic path, and with that motion comes a new world order, a new perspective on the whole. With the Sun in Capricorn we were reserved, exacting, and lofty in our distance. When we looked upon Man, we sought to fix him: we mourned his failures and measured his gifts. We could not imagine what he might have been, had he been tempted to betray his very nature—or had he betrayed himself without temptation, better still. But there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still. (II.1.2)

This isn't exactly keeping-it-simple, down home straight talk, now is it? But it gives us the sense that there are huge things happening on a scale that goes beyond the characters' lives—I mean, the narrator says that there's a "new world order" in the offing, for crying out loud.

But if you're feeling overwhelmed by the complexity or hugeness of the shifts and happenings that the narrator describes, don't fret—s/he seems to be able to see and wrap her/his head around everything that's going on, and more than willing to explain (most of) it to us, which definitely makes her/him—and the tone in general—seem pretty wise.

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