3rd September, 2019

Review: Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson (Mariner Books)

Lighthousekeeping tells the story of Silver ("My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal, part pirate."), an orphan girl who is taken into foster care by blind Mr. Pew, the enigmatic and strangely old keeper of a lighthouse on the Scottish coast. Pew tells Silver stories of Babel Dark, a nineteenth-century clergyman who lived two lives: a public one mired in darkness and deceit and a private one bathed in the light of passionate love. For Silver, Dark's life becomes a map through her own darkness, into her own story, and, finally, into love.

I had heard about this book before, sometime during my student days, but it was one of the few Winterson novels I hadn't read yet. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I picked this novel as a "Blind Date with a Book" at the local bookshop when we visited Scotland last spring.  

As with all of Winterson's writing you need to suspend disbelief as her stories are full of magical realism. This, however, is exactly what makes her books so wonderful. Yes, this tale is full of weird and surreal moments: I mean, how wonderfully bonkers is the idea that you need to harness yourself in in order to enter your lopsided house on a hill? Also, don't expect any linear plot strands. Lighthousekeeping jumps back and forth between narratives, weaving them into Silver's own while Pew's stories consistently blend fact and fiction. In the lyrical and powerful style of Winterson's writing, historical characters appear and disappear and their presences and absences perfectly illustrate how tangled our own lives really are. There is quite a bit of philosophical and metafictional pondering going on in this novel but it is never overwhelming. 

This book is an example of marvelous storytelling. As one reviewer has so fittingly put it: "Nobody writes like Jeanette Winterson". Lighthousekeeping is about love, about hope and memory, and about the stories that shape our lives. It's a magical read that I cannot recommend enough.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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