” The ferry ploughs on across the North Sea, and home gets further and further away. The cold air from the vent seeps down the neck of his pyjama top and he turns over again. His heart feels like the raw meat it is. It feels like something peeled and bleeding. It feels the way it felt when his mother left. ” (Ch.1: Violets, p.7)
An unsettling and spare debut, The Lighthouse begins on the deck of a ferry that carries Futh, a middle-aged man who recently separated from his wife, to a holiday along the Rhine. Despite its seemingly strange structure, where fragments of memories over time are juxtaposed, sometimes within the same passage, at the evocation of a smell or of the sight of an object, the plot is very simple. It’s a sentimental journey. Futh remembers a previous trip on the same ferry with his father, both of whom bruised and angry after the sudden, but premeditated, departure of Futh’s mother.
Futh and Angela walked into the hotel dining room, Futh with one hand in his pocket, his fingers wrapped tightly around the little silver lighthouse. He always took the lighthouse with him when he travelled, as if it were his Saint Christopher. (Ch.7, Stewed Apples, p.80)
Futh also reflects on early trips he took with his parents and his estranged wife, who resents Futh’s constant perception of her as a mother figure. (Futh’s mother and wife happen to have the same name, Angela.) Thoughts also meander to the patched-together family his father builds with Gloria, the woman next door, and her son Kenny, in the aftermath of Futh’s mother’s disappearance. Parallel to Futh’s misery is Easter’s. She and her husband Bernard run the bed-and-breakfast Futh stays. There’s a piece of backstory about their history that, in its treatment of brothers, betrayal, and infidelity, incites a sense of ominousness. During his stay, Futh offends Bernard grievously that for the rest of the novel, as his long walk takes him back to his troubled past, reader’s sense of inevitable disaster becomes almost unbearable.
Ester does not remember when she started drinking in the morning or sleeping in the middle of the day. She remembers her first infidelity but she does not remember them all. (Ch.16: Moths, p.168)
The Lighthouse explores grief and loss, and the patterns in the way we are hurt and have hurt others. The interchangeability of names and events takes a bit getting used to, but this sense of ambiguity also seems to speak the novel’s main theme: we go in circles, repeating the past, feeling trapped and claustrophobic, helplessly re-experiencing our earliest, sometimes life-forming, hurts.
183 pp. Salt Publishing UK. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]