At the risk of a) sounding totally obsessed with Salt publishing and b) jumping on an already rapidly moving bandwagon I have just finished reading The Lighthouse. Alison Moore’s debut novel was Booker shortlisted and I can only gush at how deserving it is of such an accolade. It is a deeply accomplished, deeply unsettling novel that took me only three days to read. ‘Ah, but it’s quite short,’ I hear you cry, ‘that’s no real achievement/recommendation’. Not to you real-worlders perhaps but to the full-time teacher as this near-endless term begins to wane, it is near-miraculous.
The Lighthouse follows the enigmatically named Futh – is it his surname? His first name? Or is he to be truly understood as an unwitting extension of his father, Mr Futh the chemistry teacher. The parallels between Futh and his father are uncomfortable for the reader, almost scored into the skin of the novel; they find their way into the pit of your stomach early on and sit there, growing heavier as you read. Perhaps it is just my Eliot-addled mind talking but Futh seems to me to be Prufockian in many ways: not just the thinning hair but the way he excavates present experience through memory and the way his memories are of personal stasis and indecision. His mother leaves, his father hits him; Futh remains, clinging to familiar things and objects as a child. As an adult, he still carries the silver lighthouse that belonged (albeit not rightfully) to his mother but now he clings to memories too with the same heart-breaking tenacity, replaying them over and over for the reader in increasing levels of detail. As he walks in a circle through Germany, you can’t help but feel that he walked in a circle by going to Germany, just as by marrying Angela.
I realise this may all sound a bit cryptic but the extraordinary interwoveness of this novel is what lends it such sad, real beauty. The prose is patterned with symbols and associations that connect Futh’s life; the same is true of Ester, hostess at the hotel he first visits and equally trapped by her memories and her experiences. Both characters are unwittingly self-destructive in their disconnectedness from both their lives and the worlds around them; so mired in their pasts they are unable to plot a new course: there is no real lighthouse to guide them safely past the rocks. Indeed, the novel’s very completeness only serves to isolate the protagonists further, rendering their loneliness all the more devastating. They are connected for the reader by the compulsive rhythm and movement of the text but in no way do they benefit from this connection; they remain utterly alone in the damage they have sustained.
It is a superb novel, trading in ambiguity that permeates the text in association and suggestion. Hypnotic, devastating and almost unbearably compulsive once you pick it up, it is literally a must-read. Fan.bloody.tastic.