Abandoning The Luminaries

Posted March 15, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 13 Comments

The LuminariesRecently The Readers (which is a fantastic podcast) did an episode on when you have to finish a book. This has got me thinking a lot as I was reading a book for book club that I wasn’t enjoying. I feel like I need to finish a book in order to participate in the discussion but this particular book was over 800 pages and after 200 pages I was ready to throw in the towel. The book was The Luminaries and I have now abandoned the book, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the book, and the need to finish or abandon a book.

By all accounts, I should have loved The Luminaries; it has murder, mystery and it is a detective story cleverly disguised as literary fiction. Eleanor Catton is a talented writer and there is no denying that, the proses in The Luminaries are spectacular but some will argue that the words don’t match the time period. For me the problem with this novel is the believability and the fact that it takes too long to say what it needs to say. For the very start it felt repetitive, Walter Moody was introduced as a person on the run, trying to find his own fortune. Moody had brought shame to his family, but doesn’t want to go into the details; this takes up about 40 pages of the book. I felt like this wasn’t building mystery or developing the character, it just went around and around in circles.

As for the believability I first need to talk about my life. I was raised in a small mining town called Charters Towers. In the 1870s, this town was attracting prospectors from all over the world, so much so that it was the second biggest city in Queensland at the time. During the gold rush Charters Towers produced over 200 tonnes of gold from 1871–1917. The history of Charters Towers felt nothing like Hokitika 1866 from the book. The miners in this novel are nothing like my experience of miners (or others involved in the goldrush), the book lacked the drinking to access, over use of swearing, constantly fighting and over playing Cold Chisel. The Gold rush should be a dark and violent time but The Luminaries was based around twelve people that do nothing but talk.

The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and my experience doesn’t match that of the people that have finished the book. General consensus seems to be that this book gets really good at page 600. I have to wonder if it is worth pushing through 600 pages for 200 pages of greatness. Big books always scare me and I was reading War and Peace at the same time, so I had an amazing book running alongside a book that wasn’t working for me. I wanted to finish this book for book club but in the end, there are too many books to read and left this book with 600 pages to go.

I’ve never really been good at abandoning books and I really felt like I had to finish this book but in the end it wasn’t working and The Dark Path by David Schickler was calling me. Have you ever felt that you had to finish a book? Normally I feel that I have to finish a book club book. This is the first one I abandoned; I love to hate a book but 800 pages is a big investment. Also when it comes to abandoning books, do you have a set page count you give a book to impress you? Have you ever considered writing a review of a book you abandoned? I would love to hear your thoughts on when you have to finish a book or abandon it.

13 responses to “Abandoning The Luminaries

  1. I abandoned this right around the same spot you did. On one hand, I feel the pull of everyone saying you need to hang on for all of it to come together in the final third…but if I’m slogging by page 80 in an attempt to get to page 600 for my reward, something isn’t right. I try really hard to hang in on as many books as I can (I DNF maybe 2 or 3 a year), but if it’s holding me back from reading other things then it becomes time to move on.

  2. Marg Bates

    Gets good at page 600? In other words you have to read the equivalent of two average paperbacks before it gets good? I have this coming to me soon from the library and I must confess I am getting a little apprehensive about it!

    AS to giving up, it takes a lot for me to give up a book. Normally I will just push through to the end.

  3. Bookertalk

    How can this be considered a prize winner when it takes so long to get to the good stuff. I have just abandoned two novels. I have a flexible rule of about 80-100 pages. If it has t grabbed me by then it’s never going to I surmise. But with the two recent DNF I never made it to page 40 before giving up

  4. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy The Luminaries. I loved it from the start, but I was so in the mood for a big, wordy, juicy story that sucked me in…and this one ticked the boxes for me.

    I had to give up on The Goldfinch though as I couldn’t cope with all the coincidences! Which is a shame because the first section detailing the terrorist act and the grieving is some of the best stuff I’ve ever read.
    (detailed reviews of both on my blog 🙂

    • Michael @ Literary Exploration

      The “Big, wordy, juicy story” was War and Peace, I loved that book and reading them both at the same time made The Luminaries look bad. I’m currently reading The Goldfinch and enjoying it heaps more.

  5. I’m really glad you didn’t finish The Luminaries because i didn’t either. Makes me feel like less of a failure. I suspected it might get good at about page 600 but that’s an awful lot of reading to do to get to the good part. I also liked your observations about mining culture. I’m more familiar with mining culture in Canada and felt that in Catton’s imaginings it was all very civilized.

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