Likes: strong characters, complex plot, changing viewpoints, exceptional writing
Dislikes: nothing (!)
I liked this book a lot more than I thought I was going to, not just because one of the characters is named Hannah. It was already on my TBR list but with the movie coming out in September and my thoughts on the-book-is-always-better-than-the-movie and that it should always be read before seeing the movie (see no. 4 and 15) I decided to read it sooner rather than later, so it was bumped up on the list.
It was much more interesting than I thought it would be, and you need to know virtually nothing about the ins and outs of lighthouse-life to get the full effect. It’s full of memorable passages of beautiful writing and I’ve included some of them below.
Who’s read this? What are your thoughts? Is Isabel a horrible person both for doing what she did and keeping up the ruse for so long? Is Tom, too, for going along with it (because he was such an upstanding man before he met Isabel)? Or are they just a couple whose been isolated from society for so long that their judgment has been skewed and they should be shown some mercy? Isabel insistence that Lucy’s life has been saved is no consolation, in my opinion, for the absolute hell Hannah was put through and continued to be subjected to due to Isabel’s selfishness. Was it worth it? I’ll let you decide.
Here are six (yes, six) stand out passages that I just loved:
“Hundreds of feet above sea level, he was mesmerized by the drop to the ocean crashing against the cliffs directly below. The water sloshed like white paint, milky-thick, the foam occasionally scraped off long enough to reveal a deep blue undercoat. At the other end of the island, a row of immense boulder created a break against the surf and left the water inside it as calm as a bath. He had the impression he was hanging from the sky, not rising from the earth. Very slowly he turned a full circle, taking in the nothingness of it all. It seemed his lungs could never be large enough to breath in this much air, his eyes could never see this much space, nor could he hear the full extent of the rolling, roaring ocean. For the briefest moment, he had no edges.”
“From the gallery, the horizon stretches forty miles. It seems improbable to Tom that such endless space could exist in the same lifetime as the ground that was fought over a foot at a time only a handful of years ago, where men lost their lives for the sake of labeling a few muddy yards as ‘ours’ instead of ‘theirs,’ only to have them snatched back a day later. Perhaps the same labeling obsession caused cartographers to split this body of water into two oceans, even though it is impossible to touch an exact point at which their currents begin to differ. Splitting. Labeling. Seeking out otherness. Some things don’t change.”
“Isabel recalled how she had been struck by the emptiness of this place, like a blank canvas, when she first arrived, how, gradually, she had come to see into it as Tom did, attuning to the subtle changes. The clouds, as they formed and grouped and wandered across the sky; the shape of the waves, which would take their cue from the wind and the season and could, if you knew how to read them, tell you the next day’s weather. She had become familiar, too, with the birds which – carried along as randomly as the seeds borne on the wind or the seaweed thrown up on the shore.”
“She would draw from her pocket a letter to her husband and child. Occasionally she enclosed things – a cutting from a newspaper about a circus coming to town, a nursery rhyme she had written by hand and decorated with colors. She would cast the letter into the waves in the hops that, as the ink seeped from the envelope, somewhere, in one way or another of the oceans, it would be absorbed by her loved ones.”
“The town draws a veil over certain events. This is a small community, where everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember. Children can grow up having no knowledge of the indiscretion of their father in his youth, or of the illegitimate sibling who lives fifty miles away and bears another man’s name. History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.”
And of course there are dozens of such quotes that are worth a second, third or fourth read but I’ll leave you with these and hope they’ve convinced you this book is worth reading.
And of course, the movie. I purposely read the book first before seeing the film and I’m glad I did. I won’t spoil anything here other than saying that the film was so much like the book that if you decide you’d rather see the movie than read the book, you won’t be missing much. One detail at the very beginning was skipped, but it didn’t have any major effect on the rest of the story as depicted in the film. So both are entirely worth your time if you’d like to immerse yourself in this story.
Lastly, although the book was set in Australia, I saw this article recently about lighthouse keepers on the east coast, Boston in this case, and just had to share it: “The nation’s first lighthouse celebrates 300 years off the Boston coast on Wednesday. It’s called Boston Light and it’s manned by Sally Snowman.”
Says Sally Snowman, about the day she knew she wanted to be a lighthouse keeper and how she feels about it today:
“”Ha, oh, how could I forget that day. I came to visit the island with my dad and stepped off the dingy onto the beach and looked up to this 89-foot tower and said, ‘When I grow up, I want to get married out here,’ ” she says.
And she eventually did. Then, she started volunteering in 1994 — and when the Coast Guard civilianized the light station in 2003, she was officially designated as Keeper of Boston Light.
“And here I am in 2016, the keeper for our 300th anniversary, that’s way beyond my wildest dreams,” she says.”