Jan/Feb 2013  •   Reviews & Interviews

The Lighthouse

Review by Ann Skea

The Lighthouse.
Alison Moore.
Canongate Books. 2012. 184 pp.
ISBN 978 0 85786 995 2.

Futh is in his 40s, newly separated from his wife, and taking a walking holiday in Germany. He hasn't been doing much walking recently, but he plans on doing 15 miles a day and coming home fit and tanned. And he remembers walking with his mother and father as a child and especially a sunny day on the cliff tops just before his mother left them both to disappear in the USA. He was 12 when that happened, and his father became unpredictably violent, so he would keep out of his way much of the time.

Futh is, above all, ordinary. He is unassertive, has rather limited social skills, and always inspects the escape routes from his hotel rooms in case of fire. His talisman, which he always keeps with him, is a silver lighthouse that once housed a bottle of his mother's violet-scented perfume. But lighthouses, as the books' epigram tells us, not only send out kindly light, they also warn of the rocks beneath. Futh's life seems always to have more rocks than most.

Alison Moore's book is deceptively simple. We come to understand Futh through countless ordinary details of his life and through his fragmented memories. Between the chapters about Futh, there are others about Ester, the wife of the hotel-keeper at whose hotel Futh starts and ends his journey. Esther craves attention from her violently possessive husband Bernard, who mostly ignores her. She compensates for this by taking casual lovers. Futh is not one of them, but he becomes involved, all unknowingly, and the results are disastrous.

Esther's life, like Futh's, is little different from that of most people's. And it is this ordinariness and the small details of the characters' day-to-day behavior which, at the end of the book, prompt questions about the accidents of life. Are our personalities shaped by nature or nurture (or lack of nurture)? Is the pattern of your lives determined by Fate? Does the appearance of Venus fly-traps at various parts of this story suggest that we are just like flies in the biological struggle for survival?

Nothing about Alison Moore's story is as obvious as these questions but her smooth and subtle control of the reader's mood and emotions has, in the end, enormous impact.


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