Sunday, 6 November 2016

THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton

I enjoyed this book, but it also annoyed me. Or to be more exact, the author annoyed me. She is 28, she's just won the Booker, and she's done it with an 800 page pastiche of the Victorian thriller. Who on earth thinks to themselves, I know – I'll just write an 800 page pastiche of the Victorian thriller. That's a good idea! That will get published! That will win the Booker! And yet it did. I guess in a way it reminds me of Donald Trump; and that almost in an inspirational kind of way. Now, hold your pitchforks: what I mean is, Donald Trump is almost inspirational, when looked at in a certain kind of way. It shows you that you can dream wild dreams, and no matter how improbable, how little qualified you are, how laughable they may be, they can still come true. But back to THE LUMINARIES.

The plot has many twists and turns, and I suspect this is what many people will most enjoy about this book. For me however, what I enjoyed was the confident Victoriana. I'm a great lover of the Victorian novel, and there's something really fun about seeing a new one produced. One tends to think that the stock of Victorian novels is set; that once I get to the end of Dickens and Trollope and Collins and, scratching around a bit – Carlyle, there's nothing left to read. But what do you know – here's a new Catton! I'll give you this, as a flavour of the whole book:
Moody was not unaware of the advantage his inscrutable grace afforded him. Like most excessively beautiful persons, he had studied his own reflection minutely and, in a way, knew himself from the outside best; he was always in some chamber of his mind perceiving himself from the exterior. He had passed a great many hours in the alcove of his private dressing room, where the mirror tripled his image into profile, half-profile, and square: Van Dyck’s Charles, though a good deal more striking. It was a private practice, and one he would likely have denied – for how roundly self-examination is condemned, by the moral prophets of our age! As if the self had no relation to the self, and one only looked in mirrors to have one’s arrogance confirmed; as if the act of self-regarding was not as subtle, fraught and ever-changing as any bond between twin souls. In his fascination Moody sought less to praise his own beauty than to master it. Certainly whenever he caught his own reflection, in a window box, or in a pane of glass after nightfall, he felt a thrill of satisfaction – but as an engineer might feel, chancing upon a mechanism of his own devising and finding it splendid, flashing, properly oiled and performing exactly as he had predicted it should.

Isn't it charming? I also enjoy the idea, and think it's true. Appearance can very much be manufactured, but it takes significant effort, and that effort needs to start early. I wish I'd known about this as a teenager. I wish I'd spent more time on it. I wasted my adolescence reading books, when I should have been looking in mirrors, practising my face. Too late now: the lines are all set, and getting deeper every year.

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