Robert Macfarlane in More Intelligent Life:
I first read “The Luminaries” as a judge of the Man Booker prize for fiction last year. Without that compulsion I might never have picked it up, put off by its cubical bulk and astrological armature. What a loss that would have been! I have now read it three times—2,496 pages in sum—and each reading has yielded new dividends. And its consequences enact its concerns, for Catton takes such pains not only for the joy of evocation, but also to carry out a huge thought-experiment into the nature of value. Almost everyone in Hokitika is dedicated to the acquisition of wealth and the maximisation of profit. It is a community driven by capital, in which relationships are ruled by cost-benefit analysis. One of the few transactions to defeat this fierce logic is the unconditional love that develops between two characters: a young prospector and a “whore”. Their love eventually emerges as a gold standard: a touchstone with which to test the value of all things.
And so this phenomenal book, apparently about digging into the Earth's innards in search of wealth, ends up delving into the heart's interior to find true worth. All the while the landscape goes about its business: rain clatters fatly onto the roofs of Hokitika's 100 pubs, storms pummel the sand-bars, the snowmelt of the high peaks swells the rivers, and the rivers crash down towards the sea, carrying gold which shines in their eddy-pools, as one early prospector put it, “like the stars of Orion on a dark, frosty night”.