Short Read: our literary editor, Maggie Fergusson, recalls three days last summer spent reading “The Luminaries”

Philip Gwyn Jones at Granta told me “The Luminaries” was one of the most thrilling books he’d ever worked on. When a proof thumped onto my doormat, and I saw its girth and felt its weight, my heart sank. I thought I’d probably give it a miss, but then I had a blank weekend and I read it solidly for three days. I think part of the reason I loved it so much was because I went at it hard, and without distraction. If I hadn’t tackled it like this the complexity of the plot would certainly have become a problem. As it was, I really had to keep my wits about me, and took detailed notes to ensure that I didn’t get completely lost. You may not think this sounds like an appealing way to read a book—and in principle I’d agree—but it seemed to work with this one.

I felt bowled over after finishing it—and I still find myself asking: “HOW did she do it?” The writing is highly intelligent, elegant and slightly quirky without ever being showy or sassy. It has a very strong sense of place, and of weather (that endless rain!), and a tension between savagery and civility—the new world and the old. I confess I didn’t get the astrological elements at all. Initially I was concerned about this, but I decided that I was enjoying the book so much I’d stop thinking about it. As I haven’t met a single person who seems to have understood this aspect, my best piece of advice is DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE STARS!

Maggie Fergusson is literary editor of Intelligent Life and director of the Royal Society of Literature

Robert Macfarlane will be in conversation with Eleanor Catton (both pictured above) on April 3rd in London at an event co-hosted by I