Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

Alison Moore's The Lighthouse is all about undercurrents in the lives of some lonely people. Futh is a British man who goes on a walking holiday in Germany after his marriage disintegrates. Ester and her husband Bernard run a bed and breakfast called Hellhaus (the light house), which is Futh's first and final stop on his weeklong circular route.

The narrative moves back and forth in third person between Futh and Ester, revealing past events that have shaped their current existence. There are similarities that take on significance and a sense of menace builds as the story progresses. Connections between human beings are sometimes harmful, rather than supportive.

An ornamental silver container in the shape of a lighthouse, and that once held a vial of perfume, is at the center of the slowly simmering plot. There is evidence from the start that things are not as they appear on the surface. A reflection of this can be seen in Ester's technique for cleaning her guest rooms:

"In the bedroom, she strips the sheet from the bed, shakes it out and inspects it and then smooths it over the mattress again. She turns over the pillows, plumping them up." (Reminds me of Tomsky's Heads in Beds memoir.)

Later, Futh occupies that room. "He opened a book and tried to read but could not concentrate, kept reading the same lines over and over and reaching the bottom of the first page without having taken it in. He was distracted by the moth flying at his lamp. He got out of bed again and opened the curtains and the window to let it out, knowing that this disoriented moth was really after the moon, its navigational aid, although Futh could not see the moon from where he was standing. Getting back into bed, he turned over his pillow to get the cool side and noticed the stain of a stranger's mascara like a spider on his pillowcase."

Moore chose a quote from Muriel Spark as the epigraph: "she became a tall lighthouse sending out kindly beams which some took for welcome instead of warnings against the rocks." A perfect preface for this unsettling novel.

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