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Why if you liked Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, you'll enjoy Steven Price's By Gaslight

Columnist Donna Bailey Nurse talks about how both are big books that give big experiences.
Columnist Donna Bailey Nurse suggests you read Steven Price's By Gaslight if you enjoyed Eleanor Catton's historical fiction, The Luminaries. (Emblem Editions/Donna Bailey Nurse/McClelland & Stewart)

Eleanor Catton has acknowledged that, at 800 plus pages, The Luminaries was a publisher's nightmare. That length didn't stop the 2013 juries for the Man Booker Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction from awarding the book their top prizes.

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse has read The Luminaries, and says if you enjoyed this award-winning novel you should check out By Gaslight by Steven Price.   

Masterful storytelling

"The Luminaries is an origin story of New Zealand. It's set during the gold rush era in 1866 when people — mostly male, white and British — arrive in Hokitika to make their fortune or alter their identities because of past indiscretions. The action involves a mystery in which the town's most successful prospector goes missing. At the same time, a hermit who lives outside town is found dead and thousands of pounds worth of gold among his belongings. At the same time, a prostitute is found unconscious on the street. What we learn is that almost every character stands to profit from these horrible events. You will have one character begin their portion of the narration, but while we are solving one aspect of the mystery, Catton also introduces another aspect of the mystery. She has a masterful storytelling ability."

Canadian questions

"What makes a novel Canadian? This is something I keep asking myself. I wasn't thinking of Catton as Canadian, but of course she is. Our writers are very subversive. There has been a lack of integrity in how history has often been written — so our writers in Canada are good at uncovering the real history. More and more, people will turn to novelists for these truer histories. That's where The Luminaries really stands up. The book is written in the style of a 19th-century novel where we have a lot of white men, but we also have some women, Chinese and Maori characters. A Victorian novelist at that time may have presented it in such a way that didn't truthfully the racial dynamic, the sexism and the imperialism of the time. But Catton does this and comments on it quite wittily and quite bitterly."

Reading by gaslight

"Steven Price's By Gaslight is written in the form of a 19th-century novel set in London. It covers lots of locations and it's a set of fictionalised episodes in this real man's life — this real man is William Pinkerton, son of the famous detective Allan Pinkerton. William inherits his father's detective agency and his obsession with a master criminal his father was never able to apprehend. Price is a very evocative writer; he manages to translate that vivid emotional experience of poetry into prose. If poetry is really wonderful, it moves so much more than your mind. You respond physically to a poem. And that's how it is in this novel — he's just superb, as is Catton, with language."

Donna Bailey Nurse's comments have been edited and condensed.