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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Lighthouse

This short debut novel by Alison Moore was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. A nondescript recently separated man named Futh, we never learn his first name, embarks on a solo walking tour in Germany. He recalls similar trips he's taken with his parents and with his estranged wife. His mother left her marriage when he was a young boy and he was brought up by his father, a somewhat cruel man who starts a new relationship with a neighbour who is the mother of Futh's friend, Kenny.
His holiday begins at the Hellhaus (Lighthouse) guesthouse which is run by Ester and Bernard, whose marriage is very unhappy. Ester is frequently unfaithful and Bernard beats her. Futh inadvertently leaves Bernard with the false impression that he and Ester have had a more than casual encounter. He cannot understand why Bernard has taken such a dislike to him. He leaves the hotel to continue his walk and plans to return in a week. He gets lost and sunburned and gets painful blisters because he neglected to break his shoes in before his trip. As he walks along, in serious discomfort, he recalls scenes from his childhood, most of them vaguely unpleasant. There is a sense that there is more to these scenes than he discloses. He is obviously marked by his mother's abandonment of him. He carries a small silver lighthouse case that once held a bottle of perfume in his pocket because it reminds him of her. Esther has a similar lighthouse that Bernard has given her but it is made from wood.
In his everyday life Futh is a chemist who creates artificial scents. The chapters are named for smells that evoke a resonance within  him: violets, oranges, cigarette smoke and camphor.
The novel is disquieting and, as Futh's journey continues, Moore builds up an atmosphere of tension and the feeling that he is moving towards something menacing. Moore's writing is superbly spare and conveys a great deal in few words.
Moore has subsequently written two novels which I intend to read (He Wants and Death And The Seaside)

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