I am a fan of Dickens which is why I picked up Eleanor Catton‘s zodiac-inspired novel, The Luminaries, with its golden spiral formula that helped it win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Set in 1866 in the New Zealand goldfields, the book imbues its following twelve main characters with traits of the astrological star signs.
- Te Rau Tauwhare (greenstone hunter): Aries
- Charlie Frost (banker): Taurus
- Benjamin Lowenthal (newspaper man): Gemini
- Edgar Clinch (hotelier): Cancer
- Dick Mannering (goldfields magnate): Leo
- Quee Long (goldsmith): Virgo
- Harald Nilssen (commission merchant): Libra
- Joseph Pritchard (chemist): Scorpio
- Thomas Balfour (shipping agent): Sagittarius
- Aubert Gascoigne (justice’s clerk): Capricorn
- Sook Yongsheng (hatter): Aquarius
- Cowell Devlin (chaplain): Pisces
The traditional qualities tied to each sign forms the foundations upon which Catton builds full-fledged characters. These twelve characters provide with each individual version of events the missing links in the story pertaining to a series of unsolved crimes. They are interrupted by the arrival of a stranger who will have a key part to play in a trial because he becomes privy to all their secrets. He and another set of characters associated with traditional planetary bodies listed below are also characters key to unlocking the mystery.
- Walter Moody: Mercury
- Lydia (Wells) Carver née Greenway: Venus
- Francis Carver: Mars
- Alistair Lauderback: Jupiter
- George Shepard: Saturn
- Anna Wetherell: The Sun/The Moon
- Emery Staines: The Moon/The Sun
In spite of its technical prowess, the book didn’t connect with me. It didn’t give me the emotions I felt upon reading Oliver Twist, Great Expectations or Little Dorrit although it attempts some social commentary and contains all the elements of a Dickensian Victorian-era novel: a man is killed; a will is missing; a politician is hiding a secret; the governor accepts a trade off the books; an opium addict is mistreated and so on. While I hold it in high esteem for its structural cleverness, The Luminaries failed to capture my heart.