As you may know, but perhaps not, The Luminaries is murder mystery set in New Zealand. The structure of the book is experimental and intellectual. The novel is based in astrology and the movements of the planets within the 12 signs of the zodiac. Each of Catton's primary characters represents either a sign of the zodiac or one of the seven planets (Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Mercury). I know little to nothing about astrology, and what I do know comes from constant googling over the course of reading this book.
The reading began with a passage that I haven't yet reached in the book (on pg. 484 of the hardcover addition), with a scene between the widow Mrs. Well (Venus) and Dick Mannering, the whoremonger, (Leo). It's a lovely and even funny scene made all the better by Ms. Catton's gentle lilt. After she finished the passage, questions were asked and answered.
Because I'd rather not recount the whole event, I'll provide you with a quick list of a few things I learned, which were helpful in understanding the author and her work:
1. While researching and writing the novel, Catton was reading a lot of Jung's works, which concern many principles that seemingly come into play in the novel in subtle ways. Two of his ideas that she mentioned specifically were the idea that astrology is a sort of psychology and the concept of the id / ego / superego.
2. She was fascinated by the idea of writing a story from the 12 figures of the zodiac. She said she initially began the story as 12 characters on a jury meeting in secret, before she realized that jurors are forbidden from deliberating in secret.
3. The twelve characters themselves have traits of their symbols, for example: Taurus is the house of wealth, so that character was made to be a banker, while Gemini is the house of communication, and therefore that character was a newspaper editor
4. She said the process of writing was much like solving a puzzle (ironically, that's what the process of reading this novel feels like as well).
5. She explained a bit more how the signs and planets interact by explaining the title of the first chapter, Mercury in Sagittarius. Moody, the traveler from Scotland with whom the reader begins the book, comes into a room of 12 convened men as the voice of reason and logic, but also as the detective. He sits next to Sagittarius, a sign which represents the collective unconscious, but which is also the house of journeys. She believed the pairing of journeys and reason was the perfect start to a story.
6. The story is plotted in two hemispheres, and the reader can choose to take either track. The first is plot, which courses through the murder mystery, ignoring what astrology is unknown and what character specifics are forgotten, seeking the resolution to the story. The second is structure, which traces a more intellectual arc, weaving each chapter through the rigors of the astrological and planetary result, which is preconfigured.
So basically, my reaction from all this? Probably some combination of this:
I'll leave you to mull over these things, and will be back once I have finished.