18 of 36 people found the following review helpful
"My life is a hesitation in time, an opening in a cave.",
This review is from: Lighthousekeeping (Hardcover)
Operatic in its construction, Jeanette Winterson's magnificently descriptive, impressionistic novel, tells two interconnected stories, each of them asking who we are as humans, how do we connect to the past, and what makes our lives worth living. On its modern level, it is the story of Silver, born in 1959, "part precious metal, part pirate." A young girl without a father, Silver is orphaned at ten and moves into the local lighthouse with Pew, the aged and blind lighthousekeeper, whose family has tended the light in northwest Scotland since 1828. There, she polishes the brasswork, makes the tea, and listens to Pew's stories, some of them historical and some more fanciful, but all of them filled with wisdom and lessons from the past.
The lighthouse, we learn through Pew's stories, was built by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, who in 1878, returned to the light for a visit, where he became fascinated by the story of Babel Dark, a local preacher, who became the inspiration for Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dark, we learn through stories, fell in love with beautiful Molly in the early 1850s, then saw her embracing another man, became overcome with jealousy, and rejected her. After marrying another, however, he is soon drawn back to Molly, taking the symbolic name of Lux (meaning "light") when he is with her. His inability to control his emotions, however, leads to his Hyde-like abuse of women. "He was dark...the light in him never lit."
As the stories of Silver (which reflects light) and Babel Dark develop in parallel, the novel takes on operatic qualities, with the two stories often sounding like duets sung in counterpoint to each other. As each person seeks fulfillment through love, the primary quality which separates man from animals, the cadence of Winterson's writing rises and falls, swirls, and turns in upon itself, with the same themes of creation, connection, and the continuity of life echoing throughout. Winterson's incorporation of the Tristan and Isolde story and the visit of Charles Darwin to the lighthouse expands and further emphasizes the themes.
Both romantic and philosophical, Winterson offers much unique imagery. Pew, for example, is a "silent, taciturn clamp of a man." An Albanian family was "vacuum-packed into a ship," the grandmother, "all sun-dried tomato, tough, chewy, skin split with the heat." Her narrative tempo is flawless, the language elegant, and the characterization consistent with the themes. The end of the book harks back to the beginning, completing a circle and granting new insights into her meanings. A rich novel which the reader will want to read slowly and savor.