Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Lighthouse

This is a brilliantly strange little book. What starts off as a seemingly ordinary story of a recently-separated, middle aged man going on a walking holiday gradually becomes an unsettling, ominous tale which slowly and subtly grips you.

The pace is initially ambling, as one could expect of a walking holiday. However, you soon begin to realise that all is not as it seems. Our main character Futh's first encounter on his holiday is Carl, a fellow traveller; Futh offers him a lift to his mother's house. "Do you ever get a bad feeling about something? A bad feeling about something that's going to happen?", Carl asks, sowing the seeds of discomfort in the reader's mind. This sense of unease pervades in both Futh and Ester's (a hotel landlady and fellow main character) segments, and increases to a gripping level in the final, dark chapters. Ester's dangerous dalliances with her husband in close quarters feel even more dicey as you learn their history and the kind of man Bernard is. As her story unfurls, Ester emerges as a troubled risk-seeker, craving love and attention. Similarly, as we get to know Futh, an individual deeply damaged by his mother leaving him emerges.

Although not much actually happens, I loved how this book played out. The main characters are lonely, lost souls and I empathised as they looked back on their lives. Futh's reoccurring reflection on the moment of his parents' marital collapse brilliantly captured how this has haunted him throughout his life. His relationship with his wife, meanwhile, was both sinister (she shares a name with Futh's mother, and frequently needs to remind him, "I'm not your mother") and sad. Alison Moore fleshed out his character through using details which made sense while we are in Futh's head, but make him look odd to anyone on the outside (spilling food and blood on himself, retiring to bed early on in his wedding reception, hitchhiking rather than learning to drive...). This was subtle, and I loved it.

Overall, I warmed more to Futh's character than Ester; Futh is portrayed as pathetic, ill-adjusted and forgettable among those who meet him (including Ester, as their paths only briefly cross). However, he's fundamentally well-meaning, simply weighed down by the baggage of his childhood. I wanted things to work out for him. Ester's story circles around revenge, which sets the reader's mind racing at the unresolved ending to this tale.

Alison Moore's novel is one of the most perfectly planned I've had the pleasure of reading. Every motif has its place and serves to link the disparate elements of the book together. I've seen The Lighthouse described as a story of smells. Futh works as a creator of synthetic scents, whilst Ester dreamt of being a perfumier; the eponymous lighthouse (or, at least, one of them) is an empty perfume bottle. Odours of violets, oranges, coffee and camphor reoccur regularly, linking Futh and Ester's memories together and into the present. As our senses play a powerful part in memory, I thought the frequent fragrance references fitted nicely.

As you can tell from the length of this review, there's a lot packed into The Lighthouse's limited pages. I was captivated, but I'm definitely going to have to reread as I'm certain I missed parts. Although you do need to concentrate to not miss subtle moments, Moore's words drew me into the mind of her characters; I was alongside the Rhine with Futh, right down to feeling the blistered feet and burning skin. So, for the reason that it lifted me away from the humdrum and into a different place, I'd definitely recommend this as a rush hour read.

(Image taken from Available in paperback. Kindle edition -


  1. I'm so glad to have found your blog. I enjoyed your thoughtful reviews. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you, that's very kind of you! Glad you've enjoyed the reviews so far, more to come soon...


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