This book has to be one of the weirdest, longest, most round about ways anyone has ever tried to start shit with me. Who gave this a prize? Honestly? “New York Times Notable Book of the Year” my ass cheeks.
First of all, it’s almost 900 pages long. I’m not opposed to reading books this long, Steven King’s It remains, to this day, one of my all-time favorite books. And pretty soon I’ll be embarking on David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and I could not be more excited. But It is 1,138 pages of good story and character development, not stupid ass redundant details that are hardly relevant. The book opens with like 30 pages of a man describing how he thinks of himself..but he’s not conceded or anything.
Imagine if you will, the number one criticism (that I heard anyway) of Stephanie Meyer’s writing: the characters have so little substance, the reader has to do all the work. The opposite is true for Catton. Since she obviously considers everyone on the planet who isn’t her, stupid af, she condescends to our lesser intelligence, so that she can hold our hands and spell out every tiny detail our weak minds would never be able to come up with on our own.
Thank God, where would we be without her?
The story, and there will be spoilers because I recommend nobody read this book, is about thirteen men who all get implicated in a murder mystery set in Hokitika, New Zealand during the 1860’s gold rush.
If you still want to read this book, turn back now. Spoilers dead ahead. For the rest of ya’ll, keep reading, I’ll save you the time.
Twelve of these men are, I guess, meant to represent each of the Zodiac signs. Astrology has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, it’s just weird details she added. And the thirteenth, was a lawyer who made everything right in the end.
It’s like she read all the stereotypes of each sun sign and attributed every single one of them to their respective characters. No nuance, just Zodiac characteristics. That’s it. That’s all these bros are: human embodiments of the Zodiac signs. Not caring at all to research the complexities of astrology, and learn that the sun sign hardly shows itself in interactions with others you’re not terribly familiar with. Those behaviors are dictated more by the Ascendant sign and the Moon sign. But what do I know, I’m not a super genius like Eleanor Catton.
Oh, and she definitely dated a Sagittarius at some point, because that character is just insufferable. All of the negative qualities, none of the positive qualities.
So what happens is this carpetbagger shows up in Hokitika wanting to run for NZ parliament. The township is now large enough to have its own seat, he’s never been there in his life but wants to be a political figure, so he decides to make it his new home town. He stops by this guy’s house and finds him dead. He heads for town to tell everyone and stumbles upon a prostitute who appears to be dead, but is actually just high on opium. He grabs her and continues to Hokitika. He finds out later that this super rich, younger, guy has been reported missing. And he assumes, correctly, that the dead man, the strung out prostitute, and the missing guy are all connected to each other.
There was a large fortune found in the dead guy’s house but the dead guy was a hermit and should not have had that kinda cash. Well whatever, somebody sold the house and got a commish on the total value which was a lot because of the fortune, but then some lady shows up straight outta somewhere in Australia I think, says she’s the dead guys wife and everything belongs to her.
Anyway, there are twelve guys who are all weirdly connected to either the dead hermit, the prostitute, or the missing guy. And since those three are connected, everyone is connected to everyone. Well, they are all also connected to this other guy, the villain, Carver. Carver I guess is just a shitty butthole and all of them have had bad experiences with him. The thirteenth guy, the lawyer, came to Hokitika on a ship captained by Carver and said he made a point to avoid him.
In the first chapter. the first damned chapter, there is talk of a “ghost” on the ship. It is later described that the thirteenth man had gone to a lower deck in hopes to find more stability during a storm and found a man, a live human being, locked in a trunk.
The man is never brought up again. We never find out who he was, like…I just..
Ok so then the prostitute who was discovered and thought to be dead but didn’t die, decides to go into mourning over the baby she miscarried (Carver beat it out of her) and is in her hotel room where she lives. The guy who imports the opium, Pritchard, comes to her room and is all
“I want to see your stash, cause obvi it was laced with something I didn’t put in it.”
and she goes “Naw, got rid of it fam”
and he’s like “Yeah right, you hid it somewhere”
and proceeds to tear the entire room apart. For like forty pages. And of course, she has a pistol and she threatens to kill herself or something and the two of them wrestle with the pistol and it goes off; shooting, apparently, into nothing. They can’t find the bullet anywhere.
We find out later that the super-rich guy that was missing, was hiding behind the curtains in her room and took the bullet. Didn’t make any noise or anything. And then he survived another week without anyone knowing where he was with a freakin bullet in his shoulder. This is the 1860’s, how is that possible?! He didn’t lose anything either!
You know what else is impossible? Pritchard spent forty pages tearing the damn room apart looking for opium and missed an entire fuckin person?! No. That didn’t happen.
That’s bullshit number two.
Bullshit number three
is the Aquarius character, who I picked to be my favorite at random because none of them were “favorite” worthy, is the only member of the thirteen she kills off because fuck me in particular.
Sook Yongsheng’s father was sentenced to death because Carver was being a tool and storing opium in the warehouse his father owned. At that time in Canton, opium was outlawed and punishable by death. And then some other stuff happened and Carver was mean to him and whatever Sook vowed to kill Carver but he was killed before that could happen.
Then, after it was discovered that Carver killed the dead guy and stole his money among many other things and he was on his way to gaol; he, Carver got his head smashed in and died.
“But no one was in the cart with him. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat???????”
I think it’s supposed to be assumed that it was Sook’s ghost who killed him, but it is never even explored. Everyone is just like
and that’s it, the book is over.
Bullshit number four.
Almost 900 pages of seriously well thought out and intricate blackmail, theft, murder and all other kinds of rotten behavior committed by Carver and his lady friend Lydia (the dead guy’s wife) all because they were just shitty people. That’s it. That was their motive. They killed a man, nothing personal. They blackmailed another man, it wasn’t personal. They lied, they cheated, they stole, and they were the ones who got the prostitute addicted to Opium. None of it was personal.
Catton forced us through 80% of the book on training wheels and then without warning ripped them off at the last minute right as we’re heading over a really steep, San Francisco hill. I mean, this book is so bad it would have been laughable, had it not taken me almost two months to read it.
I have a bachelor’s degree in history, so this being historical fiction should have been right up my alley. But I think it’s for that exact reason that it was impossible for me to really enjoy this book.
You see, I have a degree in history. I know a thing or two about owing someone 3000 words on a topic you didn’t research and about how many poets are born in the twenty-four hours leading up to a deadline. You usually end up handing in fifteen pages of words. No rhyme, no reason, not even coherent thought really, just words that you hope at least sound like they could be used to describe the topic assigned.
What Do The Haters Say?
So maybe it’s just me, but I ALWAYS read the one star reviews on Goodreads of every book I read. I don’t really know why, I’ve just always done it.
Anyway, the haters for this book all pretty unanimously agree that there is too much detail for anyone to connect with the characters or the story. And that the author felt the need to rehash everything we know about a character or plot line every time it comes up again.
I’m telling you guys, this book only needed to be 400 pages long.
And also, something I was too focused on the other bullshit to notice, the only two female characters are a drugged out prostitute and a God awful human who comes up with these elaborate plots to take others down just ’cause.
Adore Delano sums up my thoughts on that perfectly.
Oh, we’re playing that this year, bitch?
Overall Grade: D
My suggestion to the author, next time forget the details. Girl, you can whip up a mean mystery, I will give you that. But taking 900 pages to tell a 300-400 page story turns people off and makes them not want to read anything else you’ve written because you have already wasted their time once. Plus when you give a bunch of meaningless details that are plainly just there to kill space, but leave major occurrences unanswered, it makes it look like there was no point to any of it, you had no direction. When you have such detailed nothing in the body of the book and leave the ending and other major questions from the story open, it doesn’t come across as ambiguous, it comes across as you didn’t know the answer.