In which a lowly blogger and former English teacher explains why she trashes this award winning book.
I love to read. Most of the time. But not all of the time. And this week is one of those ‘not all of the time’ times.
Let me explain.
I’m currently trying to read an apparently wonderful novel, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.
It seems everyone loves this book. So it must be wonderful. Even “…irresistible” according to Lucy Daniel in her review in the Telegraph. Ms. Daniel seems besotted with the book. And obviously she’s not alone; the judges for the 2013 Man Booker prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction obviously agree. Since Ms. Catton went home with both prizes last year. And she’s not just a double prize-wining author at 28; she’s kind of adorable.
Yep, it seems everyone loves Eleanor Catton, and this book. Everyone, it seems, but me.
I’m actually trying to read The Luminaries for the second time. We’re scheduled to discuss it at my book club luncheon tomorrow.
I started the book the first time in early September. It’s set in the 1860’s in New Zealand gold mining country. Hubby and I have travelled to New Zealand twice and loved it. We were fascinated when we toured the historic gold mining areas in the South Island of New Zealand, as well as in the Canadian Yukon. So I was sure I’d love this book.
Views from a hike in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
And after reading the reviews which pitched it as a masterfully plotted mystery, cleverly written historical fiction, with “bustling, brawling plot lines,” I was doubly, even triply sure I’d love it.
Wrong. One might even say, doubly, triply wrong. I pretty much hated everything about the book.
I hated the style. I love historical fiction usually, but I was not expecting the style of the book to emulate the style of writing popular in the nineteenth century. Wordy, convoluted description that did more telling than showing. Just the opposite of what I had taught my writing classes for 20+ years. Like reading Dickens or Conrad or Hawthorne …. or like wading through molasses, cold molasses, uphill…in high heels. I’m a Hemingway lover; I like a lean and mean style. This was torture.
I hated the contrived plot structure built around the idea of the stars and astrology. I hated the intrusive narrator. I hated that I never once forgot that I was reading a constructed piece of fiction. I love books that make me forget I’m reading; books where I can just tumble into the setting and experience the story with the characters. Like Alice tumbling down that rabbit hole.
But… I told myself… I must persevere. Eventually the plot would draw me in. Riiight…so that didn’t happen. After 50 pages, I was starting to get cranky. Okay… maybe I should set it aside for a couple of weeks. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for serious literature, I told myself. I still had a month; I’d come back to it.
And so I did. And now I’m on page 200 and there are over 800 pages in the book and my book club luncheon is tomorrow. Gulp. I will never finish it.
You know, I’m not usually defeated by a book. I love books; rarely do I say that I “hate” a book. Reading has enriched my life for as long as I can remember.
But this week, trying to slog my way through The Luminaries, I’ve been feeling almost anti-book. That reading has become a chore. Maybe I need a book break…. a vacation from reading.
Nah… I think I just need to get up from the computer and go dig out a couple of my old favourites. Books whose characters I love. And whose themes make me all warm inside. That restore my faith in the world (and in books) as an interesting and enriching place.
Or maybe just a good murder mystery? A well written, solidly plotted, good old murder mystery. With an darkly, moonlit setting, a quirky but brilliant detective…
and absolutely no mention of astrology.