Eleanor Catton is a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist from New Zealand. Eleanor was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand. The Rehearsal (2008) was her debut novel, which not only garnered many prizes, but was even adapted into a film in 2016. Published in 2013, her second novel, The Luminaries, went on to win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. The book was adapted for a television mini-series by TVNZ and BBC Two in the year 2020. Catton is also credited with writing the screenplay for the 2020 movie Emma, based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Catton was appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014 for her contribution to literature. She also received an honorary doctorate from the Victoria University of Wellington. She presently resides in Auckland with her husband. Catton teaches creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology.


Set in 1866, the West Coast Gold Rush in New Zealand serves as the background for The Luminaries. The events of the story begin when Walter Moody arrives in the town of Hokitika. Moody is looking forward to trying his luck in the goldfields.

He arrives at the Crown Hotel after witnessing a disturbing incident on the ship. At the hotel, he encounters a group of twelve local men with diverse backgrounds. They are discussing three unsolved crimes – the death of a hermit with an enormous fortune stashed away in his home, a suicide attempt by the town’s whore, and the disappearance of a wealthy man. All twelve men have incomplete information about the three events. Each of them takes Moody through what they know and tell him how all the events were interlinked. All the men present for this clandestine rendezvous swear not to reveal to anyone their discussion that evening.

However, one mystery starts unraveling after another. All pieces of the puzzle start falling into place with Walter Moody at the center of this storm.


The Luminaries is an exceptionally well-written and gripping book. Even at 848 pages, the novel never feels like a drag. Every line, every page, and every character contribute to the story line. The plot is no less astounding and Catton seems to be in complete control of it. The energy and passion that she has put into this novel can overwhelm even the most seasoned readers.

Each character has been created with such precision and care that the readers cannot help but marvel at the author’s genius. Almost all the characters come with a strong backstory, which ultimately defines their actions. Interestingly, Catton has associated each of the twelve men with a zodiac sign and the other characters with planetary bodies. The way she has used the planetary movements and their influences on the characters to maintain the flow of the story is simply awe-inspiring.

The Luminaries is a thriller based in the nineteenth-century New Zealand

Another thing that stands out about The Luminaries is the meticulous research the author has done on nineteenth-century New Zealand. Her depiction of the language in the era and, of course, the Hokitika gold rush are stunning, to say the least.


The plot could have been even more interesting with a bit more information about Walter Moody and Emery Staines. While the end of Walter Moody is poetic, the readers are left hoping for more, especially about his relationship with his father. As regards Staines, his backstory before his arrival to Hokitika was too ordinary as compared to that of the other characters.


A phrase of his father’s returned to him: you give a dog a bad name, and that dog is bad for life.

Prayers often begin as memories. When we remember those whom we have loved, and miss them, naturally we hope for their safety and their happiness, wherever they might be.

We were of our own making, and we shall be our own end.


Ameya Rating:

The Luminaries makes for quite an exhilarating read. The eight-hundred-odd-page book is hard to put down and leaves the readers mesmerized long after they are done reading it.

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