Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: The Luminist by David Rocklin

Title: The Luminist
Author: David Rocklin
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hawthorne
Publish Date: September 27, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You're an armchair traveler.
  • You like gorgeous writing.
What's the Story?:

From "Photography comprises the bright, tensile thread in the sweep of The Luminist, drawing tight a narrative that shifts between the prejudices and passions of Victorian England and those of colonial Ceylon.

It binds the destinies of Catherine Colebrook, the proper wife of a fading diplomat, who rebels against every convention to chase the romance of science through her lens, and Eligius, an Indian teenager thrust into servitude after his father is killed demanding native rights.

The Luminist is a weave of legend and history, science and art, politics and domesticity that are symphonic themes in the main title, the story of an enduring and forbidden friendship. Catherine and Eligius must each struggle with internal forces that inspire them and societal pressures that command them. Rocklin’s is a bold landscape, against which an intimate drama is poignantly played out. Just in this way, our minds recall in every detail the photo snapped at the moment of pain, while all the lovely scenes seem to run together."

My Two Cents: 

The Illuminist tells the story of Catherine, who is based on the British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. I did not know anything about Cameron but she took photographs in the mid-1800s, and was well known for the portraits that she took. The real Ms. Cameron really did live in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where The Illuminist takes place but not until she was much older. It was interesting to me that Cameron was used as a model for the book (the cover is one of Cameron's portraits), yet she was only a basis for the character. I found myself wondering about why the author chose to write a story in this way.

There is also another underlying tone of the battle between the classes. Catherine is British and there are many other British characters in the book and many of them (perhaps Catherine not included) seem to be pitted against the native people of Ceylon. They think that they are much more civilized and smart than the native people and don't mind saying so out loud. Even though there is a hint of this tone, the author talks about it but really doesn't discuss it or explore it fully. I wish that the author had explored it a little further.

The writing is definitely beautiful and I enjoyed it. The book got a little slow for me though. Even though there is a bit of tension in the book (see the previous paragraph), there is not really a story arc. The book is great for its sense of setting but action isn't really there.

Bottom line: This is a great book for those who like sort of slice of life stories.



  1. Sounds like an interesting book, but I'd be disappointed in the lack of story too.

  2. No, I think a historical novel becomes stagnant and boring without a taut sequence of actions, no matter how well written it is.
    Thanks for the review!

  3. I love Julia Margaret Cameron's photos (in fact, I saw two at the Cult of Beauty show at the SF Legion of Honor a week ago and I was in heaven) so I was really intrigued by the premise of this book. It's been sitting on my Kindle but I haven't quite gotten to it yet...I think I'll finish Rachel Pruitt's book before I dig into this one.

    1. Ahh, I loved Pruitt's book!

      Cameron was definitely a fascinating person. I had no idea about her before I started reading.

  4. The book sounds interesting and it is a topic I know nothing about so I might give it a try. Too bad there was not more action in the book to keep the story moving.

    1. The descriptions were good and kept it going luckily.

  5. I love this cover! I haven't heard of Cameron before either, but this novel sounds fascinating!


Hi! Welcome to A Bookish Affair. If you leave a comment, I will try to either reply here or on your site!

As of 6/6/2011, this book is now an awards free zone. While I appreciate the awards, I would rather stick to reviewing more great books for you than trying to fill the requirements.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...