ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Canadian author sure to become household name

Canada has triumphed in the literary world this year says Penticton book columnist Heather Allen.

Penticton book columnist Heather Allen talks about Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries this week.

Canada has triumphed in the literary world this year.

Famed short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first Canadian to do so. Eleanor Catton, another Canadian by birth, received this year’s prestigious Man Booker Prize.

Munro and Catton are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to name recognition. Munro is practically the face of Canadian literature. Before accolades came pouring in for The Luminaries, it’s safe to say that most Canadians did not know Catton.

To be fair, Catton left Canada at the age of six. And this rising star is only 28 years old, making her the youngest writer ever to win the Man Booker Prize. Having also just won the Governor General’s award for fiction, I suspect Catton is on her way to becoming a Canadian household name.

Nonetheless, The Luminaries, her second book, is firmly set in the country she calls home, taking place during an 1860s gold rush in the hastily-built town of Hokitika, New Zealand.

At first the book seems to offer nothing fresh: It’s set in Victorian times, features greedy gold diggers, and is essentially a whodunit murder mystery. But don’t be fooled. This book is nothing short of luminescent.

The story begins with a bedraggled Walter Moody, fresh from Scotland, who escapes the driving rain and a traumatizing scene aboard his ship, to check in at a dockside hotel. He begins to tell his story to a stranger at the bar, and suddenly realizes that something doesn’t feel quite right. Glancing about surreptitiously, he deduces that the 12 other men gathered in the bar are only pretending to play pool, read the newspaper or swill drinks.

Beginning to sweat, Moody senses that the men — so very different in stature and class — share a dark secret. And so begins Catton’s unravelling of a tension-filled drama, which circles around opium dens, missing treasure, an abused prostitute, a young man who has vanished, and a murdered gold miner.

The slow divulging of the men’s secrets will keep you hooked. But just as tantalizing are Catton’s precise writing, incredible vocabulary and uncanny ability to pinpoint and describe quirks of human nature.

At an age when most of us are still just trying to figure out who we are, Catton seems to have figured out and mastered a complex universe of characters. Referencing fortune-seeking both in the sense of acquiring wealth and divining one’s future through the stars, Catton’s new novel is a big and sweeping epic. At 832 pages, The Luminaries has my vote for the perfect Christmas book — something a reader can savour over the entire holiday.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living

in Penticton.

Just Posted

Crews continuing to clear rock north of Summerland

Site has had no movement for the past eight days

Poll: How do you feel about the Trans Mountain Pipeline

The National Energy Board has come out with continued support of the pipeline

‘Incredible’ show to close out 2019 Penticton Peach Festival

New Jersey Jukebox: Tribute to the Jersey Boys and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons to perform

Alleged Okanagan sex offender arrested in P.E.I.

Offences occurred while Ivan Glen Winchester was living in Summerland between 2006 and 2010

Music Rundown: Who you should be watching play live this week

Fill your calendar this week with these great shows

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

No gas in Okanagan town as lone station closed for renovations

Falkland’s Petro Canada will remain closed for renovations until March 1

Shuswap facility adds 60 long-term care beds

Mount Ida Mews hosts grand opening of second phase in Salmon Arm

UPDATE: One dead after crash on Highway 97A near Armstrong

Police have confirmed that one person is dead following an accident on Highway 97A Friday

Most Read