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Friday, March 6, 2015

We Need to Bring Back the Name Eleanor

“Dawn is such a private hour, don’t you think? Such a solitary hour. One always hears that said of midnight, but I think of midnight as remarkably companionable—everyone together, sleeping in the dark.” “I am afraid I am interrupting your solitude,” Anna said. “No, no,” the boy said. “Oh, no. Solitude is a condition best enjoyed in company.” He grinned at her, quickly, and Anna smiled back. “Especially the company of one other soul,” he added, turning back to the sea.” 
You ever have that interaction? You meet someone briefly, a stranger, and for some reason you talk more openly with them than you would a close friend. Somehow you know, though, that in spite of the brevity of the encounter, you'd see one another again. You had some kind of cosmic link that existed before you met and would exist forever.

Me neither.

But those things happen in Eleanor Catton's astonishing book The Luminaries, you guys. They happen on the reg.


I went into The Luminaries knowing nothing about it, other than I'd just read Catton's The Rehearsal and my head was still spinning. I'll talk about that one in a minute.

I didn't know, for instance, that every chapter is half as long as the next like the waning moon on the cover. Or that the entirety of the novel is built around the 12-month astrology. This is one of the most meticulously structured books I've ever opened, but the story was so good I didn't even notice.

Here's why it doesn't matter: it's just a straight-up crackerjack mystery/adventure/romance story. You've got revenge, opium, ne'er-do-wells, heroes, a little bit of the supernatural. And it only takes 848 pages to do it. That seem like a lot, but I'll bet if you pretend it's a series of young adult novels it will go by in a flash. Peter Jackson could tell the story in only 9 movies.

Clear your calendars, or whatever. It's a big book. It takes a while to get rolling. The style is very consistent, and very victorian. I thought it was worth it, but I'm just a dude with a blog. I'm not nearly as interesting as this guy:
His manner showed a curious mixture of longing and enthusiasm, which is to say that his enthusiasms were always of a wistful sort, and his longings, always enthusiastic. He was delighted by things of an improbable or impractical nature, which he sought out with the open-hearted gladness of a child at play. When he spoke, he did so originally, and with an idealistic agony that was enough to make all but the most rigid of his critics smile; when he was silent, one had the sense, watching him, that his imagination was nevertheless usefully occupied, for he often sighed, or nodded, as though in agreement with an interlocutor whom no one else could see.
Ugh, that guy, right? One at every party.

The thing that gets me about The Luminaries, I mean, aside from everything else I've said, is the book that preceded it.

That's right. You're getting a special Friday bonus edition double-post. This one is super-sized to get you through the long dark weekend (checks weather report) I mean the lovely, sunny weather you should be out enjoying.

Catton's first book is The Rehearsal. And I don't think that in one hundred years if you read both of these books without looking at the author that you'd think it was written by the same person.

The only similarities I can really draw is that The Rehearsal employs an experimental format, though much less elaborate than The Luminaries. There are two main stories that swap back and forth and eventually intersect. One concerns a girls' private school in the aftermath of an indelicate scandal involving the orchestra teacher and an underage student, all told through the viewpoint of the girls' private instructor. The other details a young student trying to get into an avant-garde acting school. Instead of Peter Jackson for this movie, I'm thinking this has Michael Bay written all over it.

Without giving too much away the narrative has a couple other angles that leave you wondering what you just read, but in a good way. Sorta like when I got out of 12 Monkeys and talked about it with my date for an hour afterwards in the theater lobby. Probably getting her into curfew trouble and eliminating the chance for any further dates. Details are hazy there.
I require of all my students… that they are downy and pubescent, pimpled with sullen mistrust, and boiling away with private fury and ardor and uncertainty and gloom. I require that they wait in the corridor for ten minutes at least before each lesson, tenderly nursing their injustices, picking miserably at their own unworthiness as one might finger a scab or caress a scar. If I am to teach your daughter, you darling hopeless and inadequate mother, she must be moody and bewildered and awkward and dissatisfied and wrong. When she realizes that the body is a secret, a dark and yawning secret of which she becomes more and more ashamed, come back to me. You must understand me on this point. I cannot teach children.
 That orchestra teacher's a real peach.