To be absolutely honest, when I began reading The Lighthouse (long-listed for the Booker so part of my own personal Bookathon), I found it hard to really care much about what life had in store for such a sad sack as Futh. By the brilliantly executed last chapters I was so absorbed with his fate that the final ambiguity was almost painful.
Between these bookends lie two narrative strands at first barely touching but gradually moving towards each other before intersecting with cataclysmic result.
Middle-aged Futh is embarking on a walking holiday in Germany following the breakdown of his marriage. Abandoned as a child by his mother he had spent his life trying not to get under his father’s feet before escaping by marrying a woman who is very like his mother. When she too abandons him it just closes the rather pathetic circle of his existence.
What better than a holiday to prepare him for a new life. Alone. In an apartment that is fitted with necessities but no niceties.
Over equipped yet under prepared, even the for gentle daily perambulation between hotels challenges him. He has blisters and sunburn. He misses meals and misjudges the power of the local beer. He oversleeps. He gets lost. Even the ornate silver Lighthouse, once containing his mother’s perfume, which he carries in his pocket like a talisman, chafes him leaving him sore at the end of the day.
Moore has a wonderful eye for small detail. Smells permeate the narrative. The perfume his mother used to wear, long evaporated but still haunting and reassuring him. Cigarette smoke, bridging the decades, a lingering symbol of betrayal.
The Lighthouse is, at 180 pages, a physically slight book. But what it lacks in physical attributes it makes up for in intensity. As soon as I had finished it I wanted to re-read it again. And as I recall, that was what Man Booker chair Sir Peter Stothard listed as one of his judging criteria.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore is published by Salt.