One of the interesting themes for me was the concept of the fortunate man. Those who find fortune through prospecting at that time often simply happened upon it. The concept of immutability and destiny are threaded throughout the novel. Catton ties fortune to astrology and then weaves a story from it.
I was reading an article this week that was published in the atlantic, which actually hit upon some of the same topics. The article, "Your Zodiac Sign, Your Health," speaks to trends in birth dates and the onset of certain diseases. A sentence at the beginning in particular was striking, especially having just finished this book, "the immutability of one’s nativity may be why so many are drawn to astrology." Certainly part of our interest is the fixed nature of astrology. Another part is that each of us has a birthday that categorizes us under one of the 12 astrological symbols. Though about three quarters of Americans do not believes in astrology, I think each of us still feels some tie to it. There remains some scraps of truth in the ancient system that still apply to our modern lives.
For example, this article discusses seasonality and disease, asserting that those born in the winter are more prone to mental instability - depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disease, for example. Traditional astrology might assert a causal link between the moon and insanity. But, the article's author points out that the moon is most dominant in the winter, when more hours are spent in darkness. This is the aspect of astrology that becomes so interesting to all of us, the intersection of mythology and truth. And that is what is so appealing about Catton's novel - you get a little bit of everything.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the book. It's very long, though, and for slower readers it would be a definitive undertaking. For those wanting to take the more intellectual path, I think you could easily spend two or three months reading and thinking about all the intricacies that Catton's writing presents. I think it would be very interesting to have read this in a class or book club, there are so many possibilities for different discussions and so many places to dig deeper. I would say maybe one day I'll come back and read it again, but given the length, that remains to be seen. Maybe we'll leave it to those interplanetary forces that govern The Luminaries.