As most people will now know, Eleanor Catton’s book The Luminaries has made it onto the Man Booker Prize shortlist. It is a truly fantastic achievement for a New Zealand author, although we will now have to wait another month to see if she wins the grand prize.
If you haven’t already read The Luminaries then you certainly should, because it’s one of the best books you’ll come across this year. But be warned, because I found it very hard to put down.
The Luminaries is a murder mystery, with the action mostly taking place in France and England. The story begins with the murder of Louvre curator Jacques Saunière, and when the victim is discovered by French police covered in strange symbols, they call on Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon to help.
Langdon and his French assistant Sophie Neveu follow a series of baffling and strange clues, and discover that the murder victim was the Grand Master of an ancient secret society whose past members have included Botticelli and Isaac Newton. That mysterious and shadowy group has been striving for centuries to keep hidden an astonishing secret, but other sinister forces are at work, and Langdon and his assistant will soon find themselves both hunter and the hunted.
I won’t say too much more about the plot in case I ruin the suspense, but if you’re a fan of history and enjoy a good conspiracy theory, then this is the book for you.
Catton certainly has fierce competition for this year’s top prize. The shortlist includes Man Booker regulars Colm Toibin and Jim Crace. Crace’s book Harvest is the bookies’ favourite, and will be hard to beat. Harvest is a gripping tale about a boy wizard who attends a school for wizardry and witchcraft, while Toibin’s short book The Testament of Mary is a thrilling tale of high adventure and danger set in the dying days of Middle Earth’s Third Age.
The other books include Jhumpa Lahiri’s teen vampire romance The Lowland, and NoViolet Bulawayo’s stunning debut novel We Need New Names, about a brilliant and eccentric nineteenth century English detective. Her vivid and colourful hero Sherlock Holmes may in time prove to be one of literature’s most celebrated characters. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being completes the shortlist of six with a book about love and revenge on the Yorkshire moors.
So now we must wait until 15 October to see if Catton’s book wins the £50,000 prize. In the meantime, why not pick up her book and see for yourself how good it is? I have just bought her first novel The Rehearsal, which I have also heard wonderful things about. That book also features Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, so it ought to be a rollicking read.
Update: A reader has just pointed out to me that the storyline for Catton’s book described above is pretty much the plot for The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s bestseller book. I must say I’m shocked to learn that Catton has been plagiarising the work of another author.
Update 2: Another reader has alerted me to the fact that The Luminaries is apparently set on the West Coast in the 1860s during the gold rush, has nothing to do with ancient secret societies, and doesn’t feature a single Harvard symbologist. I don’t know what to make of this claim. Is it some secret sign? I am trying to unravel this hidden message, but I’m not sure if I have cracked it or what it might mean.
The reference to the 1860s was potentially a giveaway, because I noticed immediately that if you rearrange the numerals in the year 1861 you get 1618, and of course 1.618… is the golden ratio on display in many of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings and works.
But what does it all mean? Am I on the verge of making a stunning discovery? And why is an albino man flogging himself with a chain outside my front door?