The Beacon by Susan Hill

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The Beacon by Susan Hill

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Buy The Beacon by Susan Hill at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Mongredien
Reviewed by Sue Mongredien
Summary: If you enjoyed the beautifully understated writing of The Outcast by Sadie Jones, I think you would like this novel too, as both authors can create fantastically visual scenes in a seemingly effortless style, yet we, as readers, are invited to search between the lines for what has been left unsaid.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099526957

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Colin, Frank, May and Berenice all grow up in The Beacon, a remote farmhouse high on a hill in a rural setting. Their parents, John and Bertha, work hard running the farm and the children have a healthy outdoors childhood – or so May always thought.

Things are different now. The novel opens with Bertha's death – John has already gone before her – and suddenly May is the only one left in The Beacon. We see her reflect back on her childhood which began so promisingly with early academic success and confidence, but tragically became a life unfulfilled. Despite May's attempt to break away from the family home and go to university in London, she was forced to return after a series of unexplained panic attacks and ever since then, has lived a quiet life with her parents, back where she feels safe.

This contrasts with her older brother, Frank, who also left The Beacon for the big city. Unlike May, Frank never looked back, cutting ties with his childhood home, throwing himself into a career, and, motivated by fame and riches, ultimately betraying the rest of his family. There is now a deep rift between the siblings… but will Bertha's death bring about reconciliation?

The Beacon is told in deceptively simple prose, with beautiful sensory description (I loved thin skeins of cloud winding in front of the moon), and Hill is wonderful at characterisation, creating rounded and credible people with just a few lines. Take, for instance, this description of the two brothers:

Life for Colin was an uncomplicated business because it was entirely outward. He had, apparently, no inner life whatsoever, no private thoughts or concealed feelings, no complex responses to other people or to events. Life was linear. Colin had no favourites and no secrets, he treated everyone according to their status in the hierarchy, looked to himself, was generous and hard-working and ended every day in every way the same as he had begun it.

And then there was Frank.

Hill ends the chapter this way, without another word, and we are left to wonder about Frank for quite some time to come. In this way, suspense is created and the tension builds as we discover, piece by piece, what exactly Frank has done and the emotional scarring it has caused his brother and two sisters.

Despite its seemingly straightforward telling, I found myself gripped by this story and raced through it, desperate to uncover its secrets, and holding my breath as I came towards the final crucial scenes. Hill has a delicate touch on the big themes such as resentment and revenge, and I found it fascinating to read Frank's take on the story, as well as May's. There is also great sadness and poignancy between the lines – at the way Colin, May and Berenice all suffer the consequences of Frank's betrayal in such quiet hurt, and also in that May never fulfils her potential, yet seems to accept this without bitterness.

I don't want to give anything away about the ending, but I love that there is some ambiguity as to what really happened back when the four siblings were young, and that the reader is ultimately left to make up their own mind as to whose version they believe. The last paragraph hints at repressed memories and buried secrets, and certainly sent a shiver down my spine!

If you enjoyed the beautifully understated writing of The Outcast by Sadie Jones, I think you would like this novel too, as both authors can create fantastically visual scenes in a seemingly effortless style, yet we, as readers, are invited to search between the lines for what has been left unsaid.

Buy The Beacon by Susan Hill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beacon by Susan Hill at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Beacon by Susan Hill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beacon by Susan Hill at Amazon.com.

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