In my 'Epilogue' about Eleanor Catton's interesting (and highly recommended) first novel, The Rehearsal, I wondered how (and, I suppose, if) her style in that novel -- one characterised by experimentation in a modernist / post-modernist style existing closely alongside, I thought, a strong interest in relatively accessible, 'gripping', storytelling -- would translate from that book's relative brevity to the oft-stated immensity of her second novel, The Luminaries.
It was definitely something that I kept close in my mind throughout my time reading The Luminaries; especially given that it's during the opening part of the novel that I thought the ghost of The Rehearsal lingered most strongly.
This part -- centred around the character of Walter Moody wandering into a meeting of twelve men connected by a recent cataclysmic event in the gold rush town of Hokitika, New Zealand and eventually gradually piecing the twelve's individual stories together -- is similar to The Rehearsal clearly in formal and technical terms. Much like with that novel, the reader is thrown into the immediate aftermath of an event (in that case it was a sex scandal between a teacher and a student; and in this case, it's a particularly eventful night that ended with a comatose prostitute, a dead old timer, and a disappeared young man) that is delved into further through a series of interconnected subjective narratives, detailing the wider settings, characters, backstories and events that are explored further in the later parts.
What The Luminaries does differently, though, to The Rehearsal is examine that theme on a larger scale: both literally in the fact that a mining community is larger than a high school, and in a more figurative sense in its exploration of themes of how greed, exploitation and violence branches from the (then) emergent capitalism that is now a central part of contemporary life. Overall, I found the novel a highly engaging work that effectively balances a gripping, interestingly told period mystery with an intriguing exploration of - amongst others - themes like the unreliability of the historical narrative / the illusion that is objective truth; and the wider consequences of capitalism on social communities.
If I had any problem with The Luminaries, it's that I thought it lost steam a bit towards the very end; as the novel becomes more about simply describing events that have already been established. Though there were some moments of beauty there and though it was interesting to see some of these events through a new perspective, it felt to me like the one time where Catton seemed to become a slave to her ambitious and very careful astrologically-centred narrative structure. Overall though, I'd highly recommend the novel to anyone after a thrilling story with a bit more going on underneath.