The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.
Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.
In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.
He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.
At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.
Shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, The Lighthouse is one of those books I probably would never have picked up if it wasn’t for all the hype surrounding it. There seemed to be an explosion of tweets raving about this novel published by indie publisher Salt, after it’s Man Booker nomination, and I thought it was about time I discovered what all the fuss was about.
If I’m honest, the blurb does very little for me. Like I said, it’s not the sort of story that appeals to me, and it’s not something I would have picked up. But as soon as you read the first couple of pages it’s easy to see why it was considered for such a prestigious award. Alison Moore’s writing is brimming with talent and a heartfelt depth I have only come across a handful of times. She creates such an overwhelming sense of suspense and dread that you can’t help but be drawn into the life of Futh, and this journey he is embarking upon. You know from the beginning that this is not going to be a story with a happy ending; that something sinister is going to occur. My main gripe is that about half way through the novel, it’s fairly easy to see how it’s all going to end, and when it finally happens, it becomes a bit of a damp squib.
For me, The Lighthouse is a brilliantly written novel, but not one without its flaws. If you’re going to build up so much suspense, then it should at least be built up towards something you don’t see coming. However, I am glad I’ve finally got around to reading it, and I will certainly be looking out for future publications from Alison Moore. The Lighthouse is almost certainly not a novel for everyone, but if you enjoy quiet, suspenseful novels full of reminiscing and ponderings on life, then this is a novel for you. If you like fast-paced, gritty adventures then this probably won’t be your cup of tea! However, like I said this isn’t a book I would have chosen to pick up, and yet I still enjoyed it and that’s all in testament to the quality of Moore’s writing.
The Lighthouse is out now, published by Salt Publishing.