“On a blustery January day, a prostitute is arrested. In the midst of the 1866 gold rush on the coast of New Zealand, this might have gone unnoticed. But three notable events occur on that same day: a luckless drunk dies, a wealthy man vanishes, and a ship’s captain of ill repute cancels all of his business and weighs anchor, as if making an escape. Anna Wetherell, the prostitute in question, is connected to all three men. This sequence of apparently coincidental events provokes a secret council of powerful townsmen to investigate. But they are interrupted by the arrival of a stranger: young Walter Moody, who has a secret of his own.”
Oh. My. Word. I loved this book at least as much as the people who decided to give this the Man Booker Prize in 2013 (consequently the youngest author to have ever achieved this – she’s my age!!!). Gold Rush NZ + impeccable and confounding structural feat + beautiful prose + great mystery plot = favourite read this year.
Another tome (there seems to be a trend in my recent book choices) the construction of this novel is insanely intricate. Some people call it gimmicky, but I am in awe of the mathematical measurements (chapter lengths exactly halving in word count) and the mind boggling integrity of the astrological motif. Even without these though, the novel carries its own weight (easily a couple kilos) through a concentric narrative that orbits the mysterious occurrences of a single evening. All within a captivating 19th century New Zealand setting, I found the characters deeply intriguing and the prose stylish in the Victorian pastiche. Long and not at all onerous, this is a complex novel that plumbs the depths of true love, destiny vs free will, the complexity of morality, truth and secrecy, the role of the supernatural and of course discovery (!!!). I don’t hand these out easily folks, but for this is definitely: