The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

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The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Don't be fooled by the fact that this looks like a short read. You will have to read it again very quickly. The writing is exquisite and the use of imagery superb. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 184 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Salt
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1907773174

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When we first meet Futh he's on a North Sea ferry on his way to a walking holiday in Germany. There's no sense of enthusiasm or anticipation: Futh's middle aged and recently separated, seemingly without friends or family. He always wanted a dog, but keeps stick insects. The holiday seems to be something which, when it is over, he will have done it and will then return to his new flat. It begins and will end at Hellhaus, a guesthouse run by Bernard and his wife Ester. He gets on well enough with Ester but is at a loss to understand a rather hostile encounter with Bernard. He sets out the following morning for a week of walking, thinking and remembering. Meanwhile Ester - untouched by her meeting with Futh - continues her lonely life punctuated by the occasional casual sexual encounter which she barely hides from Bernard.

Alison Moore's writing is exquisite, the prose simple and powerful, but it's the use of imagery which really marks it out as something special. The titular lighthouse is not, as you might imagine, at sea - the ferry was just a teaser - but a silver bauble which Futh carries with him - and a similar, wooden ornament which Ester was given. It's also the name of the guesthouse. It could, in lesser hands, have seemed over-used and clumsy but instead it contributes to the overwhelming air of melancholy which pervades the book. There are a series of recurring motifs - the scent of violets, bathrooms and the eponymous lighthouse - which, with each appearance, reveal a little more of Futh and Ester.

I often struggle when I can't warm to at least one of the main characters. You'd probably never notice Futh in real life and Ester is the middle aged woman who thinks that platinum blond hair and sluttish clothes will bring back her youthful looks. She's casual - about relationships and belongings. Her husband is thuggish - but none of this matters. You're pulled into this beautifully constructed story and the fact that the characters might repel or annoy you simply does not matter because they are never anything but totally convincing.

It's a short book - but beware. You will read it again before long and that second reading will tell you a great deal more. You will realise the extent to which Moore trusted you on the initial reading to grasp the outline of the story. Now your imagination will fill in the subtle shading. It's a superb book and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

The Lighthouse is - in August 2012 - on the Booker Long List. I hope it progresses but in the meantime you might enjoy another long listed book which is similarly short and demands a second reading - Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. We also have a review of He Wants and The Pre-War House and other short stories both by Alison Moore.

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Buy The Lighthouse by Alison Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lighthouse by Alison Moore at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Lighthouse by Alison Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lighthouse by Alison Moore at

Booklists.jpg The Lighthouse by Alison Moore is in the Man Booker Prize 2012.


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Robin Leggett said:

I completely agree - the imagery could so easily have seemed forced but it doesn’t at all. It’s sad and haunting. The more deeply I read it the more imagery I started to see too - like the stranger who warns of the coming “storm” for poor old Futh. Credit to the Booker panel for spotting this book from an little known writer from a small publisher - it deserves the wider audience Booker nomination usually brings. Even more credit to them if it makes the short list ...