Luminaries (Catton) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Do you believe in astrology? Do you attribute any part of your personality to your star sign? To what extent do you think the characters in The Luminaries are bound to their astrological signs?

2. In a similar vein, Eleanor Catton has given each of the twelve men the personality stereotypical to an astrological sign. Does this mean all their actions are pre-determined? And when taking into account the fact that this is a story filled with coincidences, unpredictability, and mistaken assumptions, what do you think Catton is saying about fate vs. coincidence? Does she give more clout to one concept than to the other?

3. Following the Zodiac as a guiding structure, The Luminaries is a stunning feat of construction. Some have argued that, in novels especially, high structural complexity can come at the expense of plot. In what ways does The Luminaries defy this theory?

4. Throughout the book, people are either hurting Anna or helping her. What is it about her that makes her a litmus test for other characters' morality?

5. This book is filled with stories within stories. The reader is often told multiple versions of events. For example, at the beginning of the book, do the twelve men at the secret meeting tell Walter Moody the whole truth? If not, what are their reasons for being less than truthful? Are there other times when you found yourself doubting the validity of a character's assertions?

6. Do you feel that the narrator was completely trustworthy? Like her Victorian predecessors, Catton doesn't hesitate to intersperse the narrative with moral judgments of her characters—frequently, her characters judge one another. Sometimes, the narrator "breaks the fourth wall" by addressing the audience directly. Do these techniques make the narrator more reliable than one who "feigns" neutrality? Is there ever such a thing as a narrator who is completely objective?

7. Some have interpreted The Luminaries as a philosophical meditation on time, pointing to the conflation of present and past throughout the story. Do you agree? What do you think The Luminaries is saying about time?

8. The Luminaries is set in a New Zealand that is rapidly changing as a result of the gold rush. Banking has become all-important, and the outside world is exerting its growing influence, resulting in the confluence of "the savage and civil, the old world and the new." Do any of the concerns of the people in this place and time still resonate today? Are there ways in which this story could be universal?

9. Eleanor Catton was born in Canada, lives in New Zealand, studied in the United States, and travels regularly. How do you think that her experiences as an international citizen have shaped her prose? Are there certain limitations or freedoms that Catton's nationality have on her legacy as a writer?

10. Some media outlets have asserted that The Luminaries is dominated by male characters and brings to life a male-dominated world with this story. Do you agree? If Catton were a man, do you think this issue would have surfaced? Should female writers have to take their own gender into account when writing?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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