Category: Fiction – Paperback: 192 pages – Publisher: Salt Publishing (independent publisher) – Source: Public Library
First Published: August 2012
Man Booker Prize Shortlisted 2012
I rather liked Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse. It’s a more detailed, more grown up walking-as-meditation counterpart to the slightly saccharine tang of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Futh is in Germany for a seven day walking holiday and he’s brought his entire past with him in the luggage. In between dealing with blisters and wondering what to steal for lunch from the breakfast buffet he reminisces about his mother leaving home when he was a child and the end of his marriage.
Ester meanwhile is married to Bernard who pays attention to her only when she is flirting with the guests at their B&B, Hellhaus (bright house or lighthouse). She spends her days drinking, sleeping with guests and remembering how exciting life used to be when she was dating Bernard’s brother before she met him. She’s trapped by her past just as much as Futh is and she is just as adrift from the possibility of starting over.
Futh is the focus of the first chapter, Ester the second and so on. Since Futh’s walking tour is following a circular route he stays at Hellhaus on the first night and spends the rest of the novel working his way back to spend the last night there.
It might not sound fun, it’s not really, but the skill of Moore’s tale is two-fold: in making a rather tragic character (much better at responding to life’s crises than decisive action) seem worth following as he sets off from yet another B&B without paying much attention to his map and in making Ester’s captivity seem her own choice and less passive than it at first appears.
There’s a power to the amount of detail that Moore manages to pack into under 200 pages too. Recurring imagery (lighthouses, Venus Flytraps, bathing), scent memories (camphor and violets) and carefully constructed back stories for both protagonists. It’s very assured writing for a debut novel and it builds up to a whole that is hard to forget.
I much preferred this to Swimming Home (which it invites comparisons with because of them both being less than 200 pages) and Harold Fry.
My reviews of the other Man Booker 2012 titles:
Winner – Bring up the Bodies