Multcolib Picks: If you like The Luminaries
Annotation:Children’s author Olive Wellwood takes a runaway named Philip - a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of her own magical tales - into the storybook world of her family and friends. But this fading Victorian world conceals more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined.
Annotation:On this list for those ready for a long, wonderful reading project. Virginia Woolf famously described Middlemarch as “... one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". I confess that it was many years before I was grown up enough to take it on; but whenever the time is right, this brilliant portrayal of a Midlands village, with its many characters, interweaving plots, and thoughtful portrayal of social issues - religion, education, industrialization, the role of women - will provide abundant rewards. The characters and their dilemmas are so fully realized that they resonate with the reader like living friends and neighbors, until they demand a re-reading.
Annotation:Funny, bawdy, and philosophical in equal measures - and with one of the best first sentences ever - this 1100-page modern picaresque follows the gawky and resolutely chaste young poet Ebenezer Cooke through his adventures in colonial Maryland.
Annotation:An unlikely con man wagers wife, wealth, and sanity when he finds what he’s sure is a lost masterpiece by Bruegel. With a procession of superbly realized characters: all are burdened by human muddle and human cravings, and all are searching for a moral compass as they grapple with greed, folly, and desire. And at the heart of the clamor is Breugel's vision, its dark tones warning of the real risks of temptation and obsession.
Annotation:What’s a nonfiction book doing on this list? Well, this history of the European settlement of Australia is hugely entertaining, a genuine page-turner - and many things about Australia are so much stranger than fiction, not least its forced settlement by shiploads of convicts. (And besides, we’re already in the Antipodes). Hughes is an art critic, best known for The Shock of the New, so it’s fitting that he creates such striking images with his vigorous, muscular prose. This one’s a frequent staff pick.
Annotation:In the aftermath of a disaster as staggering as WWII - the Great Fire refers to the bombing of Hiroshima - how do people rebuild, not just their cities, but their hope and trust? Two memorable main characters, and a vast, beautifully-rendered East Asian canvas, earned this book the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction.
Annotation:If you’re drawn to historical mystery aspect of Catton’s Luminaries, you’ll enjoy Pears’ prizewinning story of a murder in Oxford during the Restoration, which features no less than five narrators - all highly colorful, and all but one highly unreliable. Based on a real incident and featuring a number of actual historical characters, this is an ingenious portrait of the remarkable, turbulent late 1600s.
Annotation:If the playful complexity of The Luminaries is what appeals to you, you’ll revel in the adventures of a Scottish nobleman as he travels to England, France, the Ottoman Empire, Malta, and Russia during the mid-1500s. Brilliant and accomplished, the late Ms. Dunnett has a wide cult following.
Annotation:From the 17th to the 19th centuries, Japan was closed to foreigners on penalty of death. Its sole point of international trade was an artificial island, Dejima, built in Nagasaki’s harbor. Here begin the adventures of Jacob de Zoet, a young Dutch accountant who finds himself in an unlikely - and dangerous - entanglement with a samurai’s daughter, whose scarred face makes her a social exile while her skills in midwifery also make her indispensable. Meticulously detailed research creates a rich, engrossing setting. Thousand autumns is very different from Mitchell’s astonishing Cloud Atlas and equally as good.
Annotation:Follow an Englishman from his 1935 arrival in Hong Kong (“fragrant harbor” in Cantonese), through decades of intrigue, corruption, money laundering, and political tumult, all the way to the 1997 transfer from British to Chinese sovereignty. A memorable portrait of a great international crossroads.
Annotation:This very different literary take on New Zealand is a love-it-or-hate-it book, a prizewinner which received strongly mixed reviews and is often described as “unusual”, something of an uh-oh word. Many readers are fiercely loyal to this story, experimental in style, of the intersecting lives of three very different modern-day Maori characters - an artist, an orphan, and a blue-collar worker. Trigger warning for child abuse.
Annotation:Also set during New Zealand’s gold rush, The Colour is a mesmerizing survival tale. Though the geography is exotic (and stunning), the human landscape is all too recognizable: a doomed marriage, greed, loneliness, and harsh struggle. Fans of The Jump-off Creek will love the strong woman at its center.
Annotation:Arriving in New Zealand in 1866 to seek his fortune in the goldfields, Walter Moody finds himself drawn into a series of unsolved crimes and complex mysteries.
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This historical mystery set during New Zealand’s 19th-century gold rush has really grabbed readers’ attention: It’s so long! The author is so young! and, most importantly, it’s received such rave reviews! Described as beautiful, exuberant, and complex, even at over 800 pages The Luminaries is un-put-downable. While you wait for this 2013 Man Booker Prize winner, consider trying some of these great titles. -Markrid I.