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Buy *Lighthousekeeping* online

Jeanette Winterson
252 pages
April 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In a journey of shared illusions, melding the past with myth, this small, potent novel overflows with images: the moodiness of the pale, distant moon, the leaden weight of night, the soft damp mist that fills every crevice of this sea-swept land, a place of dreams and stories on the Scottish coast of the Atlantic Ocean. All is visual, blurred pictures of the long-dead mixing with the present, the past not so far away.

The narrator and protagonist, Silver, spends her early years anchored to a seaward-listing home that finally swallows her mother whole, leaving Silver's father never known. From the drab abode of Miss Pinch in the town of Salt, Silver is sent to live with old blind Pew, the lighthouse keeper of Cape Wrath, "home to gulls and dreams." A storyteller, Pew teaches her the language of the sea, relating the tale of Babel Dark, a haunted figure, "not a man for good mornings and good nights," who marries a woman devoid of curiosity and suffers for his lack of foresight.

A gothic figure who lived a century or more ago, Babel Dark still wanders the cliffs, galloping over the rugged terrain, his heart as wild as the countryside, unredeemed. Like a mythological hero, Dark's passion is romantic, if embittered, and Pew's tales are true, if impossible. Silver digests it all, the stories coursing like blood through her body; she cannot live without this precious fluid that rushes in her veins. Although she must reinvent herself again and again, Silver is buoyed by Pew's "lighthousekeeping" lessons, stories that sustain the heart.

Silver's life is a mélange of stories and impressions defined by her affection for Pew and her surroundings in the lighthouse. The pages are awash with vivid imagination, flying on the wings of language, the magic of myth, stories woven like webs around the eccentric characters. Pew’s stories hover, shifting within the narrative, connected by a filament of truth - Silver's voice, Pew's memory, Dark's anguish, yearning for a life unlived, for years squandered.

There are so many remarkable phrases that I savor - the language, the images, evocative seafaring lore and doomed love, all reminders of the heart and its penchant for illogical attachments. Silver navigates through her days, from the mother swept away in the wind, the bed made of chairs at Miss Pinch's, the enchanted years at the lighthouse with blind Pew, Babel Dark's sad saga of unrequited love and sailors lost to a howling sea.

Myth, memory and language are orchestrated into a tumultuous symphony at the edge of the world where life and death coexist, entwined for eternity. The prose holds a wealth of images, infinite tenderness, bright splashes of sunlight, quiet interludes of thoughtful introspection. Lighthousekeeping is a lesson in reinvention, subtle hints for living the story, listening to the past and welcoming the unknown.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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