by Eleanor Catton
Winner of the 2013 Booker prize, this book was rated highly in the press.....I wonder how many of the press read it to the end? It's no more than a fairly bog standard, well executed Victorian crime story set in New Zealand. It could have been cut by a third. The pace is excruciatingly slow, being mainly dialogue; Dickensian in manner but without the Dickensian humour and characterization. It is a slight story evolving slowly with much repetition as the many characters, none of whom are drawn well enough to elicit my sympathy, empathy or even protracted interest, put their differing points of view. Was I 'bovvered' about them? Not very much.
Although Catton deserves praise for her research, this was, at times, a bit overt and the astronomical references were a mystery to me as I found them totally irrelevant. Perhaps I missed something? I did notice the shortening of later chapters (phases of the moon?) as threads were rapidly drawn together. But the effect of this structural device just served to convince me that Catton had begun to panic at the sheer size of the monster she'd created and felt the need to sprint her characters towards what turned out to be an unsatisfying and predictable conclusion.
I'm from New Zealand so had high hopes that this novel might do much for the image of New Zealand literature abroad. Like the long haul flight to get here, this book requires stamina to go the distance and reach the end, not least because its size makes it difficult to read in bed!