I’ve come to realise recently that I read very few books set firmly in the here and now. Books from the past, books set in the past, books set in the present with a nostalgic hue, but pretty much nothing entirely contemporary.
Now nobody can read everything, everyone should read the books that speak most clearly to them, but my lack of connection with the present worried me a little. And so when I spotted a book I recognised from the shortlist for the Booker Prize, when it didn’t look too long, when it looked quite readable, I thought that it might be time to test the water.
And now that I have read it I can’t honestly say that I liked The Lighthouse, but I can say that I found a certain amount to admire and that it reminded me what I want from books.
As he spoke to a fellow traveller it became clear that something was not quite right. That Futh lacked social graces; that he had no empathy with others; that he was lonely and isolated and had no clue how he might change that.
His tour began at the Hellhaus Hotel. Esther was the landlady. Was the unhappy wife of a man who cared little for her but expected her to behave properly as his wife. And so she drank heavily, she consorted with guests, she picked through their belongings while they were away …
Her story alternates with Futh’s as he walks, observing little but turning over memories in his head. He remembers the summer holiday when he heard his mother tell his father he was boring. He remembered the realisation that when his mother abandoned them she left no forwarding address. He remembered his, and his father’s relationship, with the divorcee who lived next door. He remembered his friendship with her son, and his connection with Futh’s wife.
He kept returning to the same memories, remembering new details, and so the characters and the significance of those memories became clearer and clearer.
Other things repeated too. Lighthouses, scents, isolation. Everything.
At times I thought that it was so clever; but at other times I thought that it was so heavy-handed.
The prose was wonderful. It was spare and simple and it caught just the right hint of melancholy. And at times it was a little too correct, or words were used in ways that were correct but not usual, reflecting Futh’s relationship with the world beautifully.
I sensed that there was more going on than I was told, that there were gaps I needed to fill in.
And I sensed that something was going to happen when Futh returned to the Hellhaus Hotel. It did.
But the story hadn’t drawn me in, it had left me on the sidelines to watch with no emotional involvement at all.
People look for different things in books, and I am sure that others will appreciate this book a little more than me. And that others will not like it at all
It made me realise that I probably shouldn’t have been worried about the past/present/nostalgia thing.
A little over six years ago I signed up for LibraryThing and I wrote on my profile:
“I read to live other lives and visit other worlds. I have been doing it for as long as I remember and it is as natural as breathing now.”
That still holds true.
Lovely prose, clever ideas, so many other things, are welcome too, but that will always come first.
I can’t explain this too well, so I should probably stop typing now.
I know, that’s the important thing.