I had seen the beautiful cover of The Lamplighters all over social media and along with the description of the plot as being part mystery / part love story / part ghost story, I knew I wanted to read it. Plus I am drawn to stories in the naturally isolated and sort of archaic lighthouse setting. Something strange is always going to happen. (For further evidence of this see: The Lighthouse Witches.)
Opening sentence: When Jory opens the curtains, the day is light and grey, the radio playing a half-known song.
Who are The Lamplighters?
Well, they are the three men, the Principal Keeper Arthur, his second in command, Bill and newer recruit, Vince who work on the Maiden – an imposing and iconic tower lighthouse. Tower lighthouses are the most remote kind:
The thing you need to know about a tower lighthouse – have you ever been on a tower? – is that it comes directly up out of the sea.
So, when, in this most isolated setting, all three men mysteriously disappear, no one really understands how this can be; there are no obvious signs as to what happened. I love that this intriguing story is actually based on a real life event.
Plays with your perceptions
We slowly build up the facts and opinions about what happened through several points of view; we get the three lighthouse keepers and their significant others: Jenny, Helen and Michelle. This is a great structure to build up the suspicious atmosphere, as each account plays with your perception a little and makes you wonder who is telling the whole truth.
There is also an interesting convention in the Jenny and Helen chapters – it’s a one-sided conversation / stream. We never hear from the person they’re talking to. Maybe to reflect how used to talking, essentially, to themselves they are when their husbands are off in the lighthouse. Themes of grief and loneliness are delicately explored:
I’m not sure Arthur ever wanted to come home to me. When he came ashore on his relief, I could see as soon as he stepped off the boat that he was already missing the light.
The Lamplighters is a highly emotive story that plays with your perceptions and unravels not only the literal mystery, but the one beneath the surface too. The type of men who are drawn to be lighthouse keepers – and women who love them – are certainly unique and delving deeper into what makes them tick makes for a fascinating read into a sort-of ancient way of life.
A slow burner that keeps thrumming and kept me hooked until I found out what really happened.
- Get your copy of The Lamplighters here;
- Published by Picador 2021;
- 355 pages;
- My rating: