Tuesday 7 October 2008

Book Review: Jeanette Winterson – Lighthousekeeping.

I have a soft spot for this writer – her books are easy to read, not overlong and over before you know it. That’s not to say that her writing is superficial. Instead her novels have a dreamy quality which carries you along and almost mask the deeper issues she touches on. Her style is not surprising considering Winterson’s assertion that novels are not written, but emerge from the consciousness as an act of spontaneous creativity (I’m pretty sure that’s what she was getting at anyway).

Lighthousekeeping is the story of Silver, an orphaned girl raised by a grizzled, blind lighthouse-keeper after the untimely death of her mother. She is raised with love and with the importance of stories pressed on her but left with an innocence and naivety which causes her to struggle in the real world. Silver’s story is interspersed with that of Babel Dark, a 19th century clergyman and scion of the wealthy family that builds the lighthouse. His story is spliced into the novel in fits and starts, until you long for the next instalment and it appears suddenly amidst Silver’s narrative. His is the story of his love for one woman and his empty marriage to another. His attempts to regain the love he loses through lack of trust and his inability to forgive himself and allow himself to choose the path which would bring him happiness.

I read Winterson’s “The Stone Gods” not long ago and one theme which I found strikingly similar to this book was the importance of stories in our lives. Of how we create our own stories and then re-create them and how these stories have no happy ending, because they have no ending.

The book is very surreal and dreamy at times, something I do not always have patience with. It is saved by the writer’s ability to “anchor” the narrative down at regular intervals with small bites of reality: Dark’s tale mentions visits to him by Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Darwin. Silver’s childhood is cut short when the lighthouse is computerised and her flights of fantasy are interrupted when she steals a book and later a bird and has to face the consequences.

My only difficulty with this book was that it ends almost abruptly, although the message at the beginning is the same as at the end. You are left longing to know a little more and also left a little grieved that Babel Dark makes the choices he does, that he is the man he is. The book at its core is a meditation on love, what it is, how we lose it and what we must do to keep it in our lives.

1 comment:

  1. you know whats weird? i read 'Tanglewreak' by Jeanette Winterson, and the main character is an orphan called Silver who lives in a house called Tanglewreak. So i'm wondering if this is a form of sequel, although from the sounds of it I doubt it is.
    Still, this one sounds good though, and I agree that her style of writing is very easy and poetic, there's a lot of morals along the way but the storylines are always good :)