Futh is middle-aged, recently divorced, and on a ferry for a walking holiday in Germany. While he is away his ex-wife will pack up and move all of his possessions, and he’ll return back to England to a new apartment and a new life alone. He has one talisman for comfort and that is a small silver lighthouse that never leaves his pocket. Alongside Futh’s story is that of Esther, the inn keeper’s wife at Futh’s first and last stop. Unhappily married, Esther has a penchant for affairs with guests in uncleaned rooms and stealing from other guests. She also has a lighthouse, the wooden compliment to Futh’s more extravagant piece. The Lighthouse follows the pair in their respective, tragic stories.
The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and judging by the fury I saw on Twitter, many felt it should have won. While I have not read the other nominees, I was drawn to this book primarily because of the backlash of its loss and the fact that it came from independent publisher Salt. I wanted to love The Lighthouse. I thought it was going to be an interesting, compelling story of loss and loneliness. What I found instead was a boring novel with one-dimensional characters but excellent technical writing skills.
Where this book fell for me was within the first few pages. I was bored out of my mind trying to slog my way into Futh’s story. I found nothing about him compelling enough to keep reading; the only reason I did not stop at the beginning was because I try to always get about 25% through a book I’m reading to review. One of the main problems I had with Moore’s writing was that she implemented something I could only call third-person stream of consciousness. When you are in the present with Futh, you know every single little move he makes. Esther’s portion of the story is slightly more interesting, but only if because she does more. I can understand that Moore wanted to present Futh as floating in the present, unsure of what his life is. There are, however, far better ways to do that without losing the interest of your reader.
I found a few things in the book to be a bit absurd as well. Our first introduction to Esther she sits in the bar of her inn, watching a man eat a hard-boiled egg. They barely speak, and yet he knows to follow her and that she will sleep with him. This entire turn of events felt manufactured to show how daring and reckless Esther is, but not an act that made sense in the rest of the story. Similarly, Futh makes a sort of friend on the ferry, and ends up driving the man to his mother’s house in Germany since it is on his way. With no explanation, the man offers to let Futh stay at his mother’s house instead of him continuing on his journey. There are other moments there in her house that are unexplained and feel more awkward than illuminating to the actual narrative.
I also hated the way the book presented each and every single female character. Through the use of flashbacks, we learn that Futh’s mother abandoned him and his father when he was young, bored of her marriage and moves back to New York. After his mother leaves, Futh begins to learn a bit about the neighbor who lives behind them. Gloria cheated on her husband, who left her and took their son with him. She starts a secret affair with Futh’s father, invites a young teenage Futh over to her house and gets him drunk, and then hits on him when he is an adult, in front of Futh’s father (and her live-in partner). There is also Angela, Futh’s ex-wife, who cheated on Futh with Gloria’s son almost as soon as the marriage began. She ignored Futh when they were in school together, and he met her again initially when she was driving back from spending time with her married boyfriend. And then of course there’s Esther; she left her fiance for his brother, who now beats her. She sleeps with and steals from guests. Even the German mother of Futh’s ferry-found friend is rude and off-putting. I can understand a couple of bad eggs, but when the women in a novel merely act in terrible ways on the victim men, it is hard for me to find much to like about the book.
I will say that I loved the flashback pieces. I felt they were what drove the book, and the only reason I chose to finish. I was hoping that through one of these flashbacks we would get some sort of twist reveal that made the entire slog worth it. Did not happen, however.
I wish I had not wasted my time to read this forgettable novel. I will look for other books by Moore because her overall style is intriguing and can develop into a real talent, but The Lighthouse fell completely flat for me. A character-driven literary novel should at least offer a couple of characters you care about – whether you care to hate them or love them is irrelevant. But with the cardboard cutouts we were offered, all of the beautiful imagery and symbolism offered wasted words. After reading the book, I felt like The Lighthouse was trying to hard to be something artful and that took away from the promise it might have had. When an author is too conscious of a specific aim, it seeps out in their words and drives away the audience they so want to entice.