The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

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.

Layout 1It began with a man named Futh, on board a car ferry, travelling to Germany to begin a walking holiday. His wife had left him and he needed to do something, anything, to make a change.

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.

6 responses

  1. I agree with you. It doesn’t really matter where/when a book is set, but I want an emotional connection with the characters. I want to get to know how they think/feel. All the other parts are an added bonus, but it is amazing how hard it is to find books that connect with me these days. Everyone seems more concerned with trickery.

  2. All part of that journey to discover that which resonates with us and it is so hard to define, to understand the thing that doesn’t sweep us away. Thoughtful review and I totally get what you are saying,, it is an amazing journey the reading path.

  3. I’m also drawn to books set in the past or written in the past, as you know, but I try not to worry about it too much. I did make an effort last year to read more contemporary fiction but often found myself reading books I didn’t really want to read. This year I decided to stick to the type of books I know I like (mainly historical fiction and classics) and I’ve enjoyed my reading a lot more. I love what you’ve written on your LibraryThing profile, by the way – that’s true for me too!

  4. A lot of people seem to feel the same way about this book, not liking it particularly much, but admiring it for its prose. The repetition gets to you, I’ve gathered. Which means that I’m not feeling eager to pick it up any time soon.

    There’s nothing wrong with liking one genre more than others. What’s important is that you read books you genuinely enjoy 🙂

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