36 of 49 people found the following review helpful
"I can feel the way the sea feels her",
This review is from: Lighthousekeeping (Paperback)
Jeanette Winterson's, Lighthousekeeping is a richly imagined, highly stylized collection of memories, recollections, and stories. Jettisoning the traditional plot, Winterson weaves an emotional, intensely imagined tale that sweeps from the present into the past, and where love, time, and reality crash against the Cape Wrath lighthouse, "home to gulls and dreams," which for generations, has held steadfast on the most northwesterly tip of Scotland.
After the death of her mother, the 10-year-old fatherless Silver becomes an orphan. With no place to anchor, her teacher, Mrs. Pinch apprentices her to the enigmatic Pew, a blind old lighthouse keeper, who can miraculously see through all of time. Pew is a "rough shape of a human", an old man with "a bag of stories under his arm"; an unfathomable figure, "he was and he wasn't."
Initially fraught at losing all the things she knew and fretted over, Silver gradually learns to like the mysterious old man. As she cooks for him and helps with cleaning the various instruments, she begins to notice that there are days "when he could have evaporated into the spray, and days when he actually was the light house."
Pew tells her that if she really wants to be at "one" with the lighthouse, she must learn the lighthouse's stories, the brittle ghosts of the building's past, the stories that are "layered in time." For Pew, our past existence and the stories that we keep are like the flashes of light the lighthouse sends out to passing ships, a human connection in a world that is composed of both light and dark.
Pew tells Silver the story of Babel Dark, a nineteenth-century clergyman, who was named after the biblical tower. Dark, a secret bigamist has been living double life. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Dark is besotted by Molly, a red headed, passionate girl with whom he lives for only two months a year under the name of Lux. Dark is a living version of the lighthouse, a life troubled and distressed by the forces of night and day.
Dark is desperately in love with Molly, but he can't give her the total commitment she so desperately wants. Thus his life is fraught with turmoil and disorder. Silver, as she grows older, begins to realize that like Babel Dark, her life is also a trail of shipwrecks and set-sails. No arrivals, no destinations, "another boat, another ride." And she ponders what it was like to be lost and alone a hundred and fifty years ago.
Through these parallel lives, Winterson is saying that life is often fraught with chance. We meet, we don't meet, and we take the wrong turning, "and still bump into one another." Sometimes we even "conscientiously" choose the right road but it leads nowhere. But amongst all this chaos is love. Love is eternal, a force of nature, "as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, and as gigantic." When it burns out the planet (and we) die.
In sparse, but beautiful language the author paints a portrait of humanity that is eternally restless, and like the solidity of the lighthouse, we yearn for a stable world without volatility, precariousness, and inexplicableness.
Silver, stripped of the bright security of the lighthouse, wanders the world in search of meaning, stealing a book and bird that she believes might hold enlightenment. Dark's ending is tragedy, as he suspends his mistrust in Molly and professes his love too late.
Silver survives and finds true love because she accepts the enigmatic true state of human nature, and carries with her the gift of storytelling that Pew was ultimately able to bestow on her. Mike Leonard June 05.