Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse is a short and unsettling novel. Futh is recently divorced and embarking on a walking holiday in Germany. Esther and her husband run the Bed and Breakfast Futh stays in on his first night and his final night. This is a novel about missed opportunities and wilful ignorance.
Moore is very perceptive; the characters in The Lighthouse feel natural, realistic. The Lighthouse is an excellent character study of both Futh and Ester. Futh didn’t seem to notice that his wife was having an affair; or, he did notice but didn’t want her to leave, which sometimes I found exasperating. But the moments in Futh’s life that make him meek are explained through his backstory. Futh’s mother left to go back to America when he was around ten years old and he hasn’t seen her, or been in contact with her, since. Futh remembers his father talking about lighthouses, and his mother asking him ‘do you know how much you bore me?’ And that was the end of their marriage. Futh carries around an old silver lighthouse shaped perfume holder once owned by a relative on his father’s side of the family. The lighthouse imagery seems to be a constant in Futh’s life, repeating on him again and again like waves.
The Lighthouse is as much Ester’s story too. Ester could be a caricature in the hands of a less compassionate writer. Her affairs take place in the Bed and Breakfast she runs with her husband. Her husband is a jealous man and it is easy to see why: Ester used to be engaged to her husband’s brother. Ester seems to need justification from men because her affairs are born out of desperation, not lust. She also steals petty things that she admires from her customers. One of the things she admires, on Futh’s final night, is his silver lighthouse.
I liked the novel’s structure: the story begins and ends on the ferry to and from Germany and remains ambiguous. Ester and Futh’s stories are told over alternate chapters, at first it is not apparent who Ester is and what relevance she has to Futh but it soon becomes clear. It made me think of all of the choices we make and ignore everyday – Futh’s innocuous reasons for doing various things prove to be his undoing. On the first night, Futh hears his door close as he gets out of the shower. He looks out to see nobody in the hallway, apart from Ester’s husband. And, of course, the person who left was Ester, rooting around Futh’s luggage. And Futh doesn’t know whether or not to go back there on the final night, and thinks he might see the man he met on the ferry instead. Futh’s mother left, she did something. Futh seems incapable of doing anything. There is a lot to think about in this ambiguous 183-page book; it goes deep into aspects of life that many ignore.