on 17 October 2012
The book was quite promising at the beginning. The writing style is very detailed and clear. The present tense for the actual journey he is undertaking is contrasted against the past tense for his back story, and this is done very well. However, the book is written throughout in very close focus, which gets a little wearisome after a while. The observation of minute details, which at first impresses for the expertise behind it, becomes wearying and relentless after a while.
As other reviewers have said, the main character, Futh, is rather dull, and personally I found his name really irritating by the end of the book. Although bad things happen to him, it is difficult to feel much sympathy towards him because there is little to like about him. The story doesn't really develop - although his past is revealed in bits, it is more or less all the same - people don't like him, and he doesn't have very much fun. The book could begin and end anywhere and the effect would be the same. The ending is a mild blip on a more or less horizontal line.
The Lighthouse is an unusual and terribly sad novel. It is also rather good.
The novel tells two stories in interleaved chapters. The odd numbered chapters tell the story of a man called Futh who is going on a walking holiday in Germany, somewhat half-heartedly. The even numbered chapters tell the story of Ester, a guest house landlady.
Futh is lonely; he is middle aged, separated from his wife Angela and seems to lack any real support network, either in the form of friends or family. He has a back story, but very little present story. He is simply adrift, waiting to see which way the tide sends him, his only anchor is a silver lighthouse in his pocket. The opening chapter, set on the deck of a car ferry plying the Harwich to Hook of Holland route tells us that this is unlikely to be a story of ostentatious wealth and splendour.
Meanwhile, Ester, the landlady of the first and last hotel on Futh's planned walking route also has a small lighthouse. Moreover, her guesthouse is called the Hellehaus - a literal but incorrect translation of "light house" in German. She, too, is lonely and bobbing in the tide, not going anywhere but quietly leading the life of Molly Bloom. This use of repeated imagery is a real trademark in the novel. Whether it is lighthouses, violets, bathrooms or a host of other images, they keep cropping up over and over again. At first this feels uncomfortable but by the end of the short novel, it is a source of immense power. Moreover, the story keeps returning to the same few incidents, each time offering just a little bit more information or a slightly different perspective. It builds into something very simple but very evocative
The overall impression is deeply melancholy. We have a sense of lonely people, sometimes living in company, sometimes clinging to fond memories with sentimentality whilst their lives slowly decompose. Youthful hope becomes middle aged routine becomes old age anaesthetic.
The writing is sublime. Spare, sometimes straightforward and sometimes quite opaque. But regardless of the overall transparency, the immediate images of the room or the street or the clifftop are crystal clear, conjured from very few but very well chosen words. The people, too, feel real. They have complex emotions and don't always do logical or sensible things, but they always convince. As they move around one another in still, empty spaces they create a dramatic tension that the reader can almost touch. We wish their lives could be better.
And there is a better life to be had. Futh's childhood nemesis Kenny demonstrates that with enough charisma, it is possible to turn even modest opportunities into apparent success.
It's difficult to say more without spoiling the finely crafted sequencing; without dampening the powder. Suffice to say that it captured the 2012 Booker prize jury's collective imagination. Hopefully it will progress through to the shortlist.
This haunting novel begins on a ferry on a North Sea crossing where we meet our main character, Futh, a middle-aged man, who is separated from his wife and is going to Germany for a walking holiday. While standing on the deck in the cold night air, Futh's thoughts turn to his mother who left him and his father when Futh was a boy and later, in his cabin, he thinks about his wife and of the end of their marriage and: "His heart feels like the raw meat it is. It feels like something peeled and bleeding. It feels the way it felt when his mother left."
When Futh arrives in Holland he drives to Hellhaus, near Koblenz, in Germany, where he has booked a room in a small hotel, also named Hellhaus (which means 'bright house' or 'lighthouse' in German) where he plans to spend his first and last night. In alternating chapters with Futh's story, we read about Ester, the owner of the hotel, who is married to Bernard, but who sleeps with any of the passing guests who take her fancy.
This is a very short book so I shall be careful not to reveal too much information and spoil the story for prospective readers, however I will just say that as Futh continues his walking holiday, his thoughts continually return to the abandonment of him by his mother, his difficult life with his father after his mother left and the disintegration of his own marriage. His mind also ponders on his childhood friendship with his next door neighbour, Kenny, his anxious aunt, Freda, and the recent unusual encounter he had with Carl, a man he met on the ferry. The lighthouse is a reoccurring device, from the lighthouse mentioned on a picnic in Cornwall when his mother was still with him and his father, the 'Morse Code' torchlight flashes sent back and forth between a young Futh and his friend, Kenny, the name of the hotel where he stays in Germany, and the silver lighthouse trinket that he keeps as a memento of his mother.
Evocative and beautifully written in a spare and simple prose, this is a haunting, sombre and somewhat unsettling story that pulls you in quietly, yet powerfully; I downloaded this onto my Kindle early this morning and read it from the beginning to the rather surprising end in one sitting. We know it is on the longlist for the Booker Prize; it deserves to make it onto the shortlist and I, for one, very much hope it does.
on 10 September 2013
I have recently bought and read this book,
after just finding out about Alison Moore having read about the Pre war house book.
The Lighthouse story has its main character Futh and his parents , straight away I got the sense that Futh was a man that had had his relationship and his way of life ruined somewhat by his strange parents I think Futh may have behaved differently but I think had his life shaped and conditioned by his parents
This book is dark and haunting but also very vague it continues throughout feeling a bit like groundhog day Futh goes on his walking holiday I think for escape to find himself again after a break down of his relationship but it doesn't work his mother is as equally as unhappy in her relationships seeking comfort affection and friendship in others
I noticed the way that Futh saw others was somewhat odd his quietness and shyness was almost unsettling and upsetting his clinginess toward his mother needing the familiar things around him that reminded him of his mum showed that this was a man who craved love and attention as well as being given the ability to find his voice
I can see that Fuths dad must have had his troubles too I think both Futh and his parents were going around in circles knowing they were unhappy and despite Fuths mum needing to escape, they seem as though they are stuck in a stuffy boring small family unit all desperate to break away from one another, for a better future
I felt quite sad for Futh all the way throughout this book bless him, he just seemed so accepting of being trapped in unhappy situations and he just didn't question it I hoped at the end of the book that futh and his family would find peace and things would improve but it doesn't ... and your left wondering what ever happened to them
this book is probably the most haunting and unsettling story I have ever read the descriptive language used through out the book is excellent, the use of metaphor and the settings brought to life jumping out of the page at you is very clever
the book draws you into the story , willing the characters to find some backbone willing Futh and his mother to speak out
to change things for the better .this is an unusual read it s depressing its dark and its haunting it will indeed leave you wondering what happened to Futh and his mum ..
on 3 October 2012
I was greatly looking forward to reading The Lighthouse, as I've long admired Salt Publishing (think Tobias Hill, think Paul Magrs)and was glad that such a lively and risk-taking publisher had a novel selected for the Man Booker shortlist. Most of the reviews were 5-star, and I was sure that mine would be too - especially on the evidence of Alison Moore's terrifying short story 'When the door closed, it was dark' (Nightjar).
So maybe my expectations were too high. Though - should they not be high, for a Booker shortlisted? Instead of being gripped by it, I found it contrived, repetitive, and lacking in proper context. Futh is half-German, for instance, but that has had little effect on his character or outlook. Worse, when he gets to Germany one would scarcely know he was outside Britain: he's a nervous driver, yet manages the autobahns with no problem, readily overtaking in his right-hand drive car. His landlady even reads 'Mills and Boon'. These may seem like quibbles, but given the detail - to me excessive detail - of what he eats, what he sees on the ferry, each bedroom he occupies in the hostelries he stays at by the Rhine, they left me mistrusting the author's purpose. I wasn't there with Futh; I was observing him being observed by the writer.
The result, for me, was tricksy, rather than engaging or frightening. I was sad to be so disappointed. I've also read Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies, and I have to say that would be my clear and outright Man Booker winner.
on 2 April 2014
I loved this beautiful novel. With a surgeon's skill the writer strips back to the bone, revealing what it is to be human and to suffer, but she writes with such compassion and understanding that we feel the pain of Futh's bleeding heels as much as we do his damaged soul. The buses that don't run, the lost path, the sunburn, the missed meals and Futh's bungling progress are agony. I read on wishing things might get better for him but knowing they wouldn't. He was trapped as an uneasy traveller, like the car on the car deck so vividly described on the last page. The writing is beautifully judged and spare and also full of humour. A really rewarding book that left me wanting to pick it up again for subtleties that I had missed.
on 24 February 2014
Written in a clipped, sparse style and featuring two lonely, wasted souls set on a collision course this short book is well worth a read. The interplay of time and space, objects and situations is cleverly done so that the whole novel feels like a clever game of cat's cradle. Tense, brooding and rather sad - I liked it.
on 17 September 2012
There are two narratives in this short novel. The 40-something Futh is on a short walking holiday in Germany reflecting on his life - his wife has just left him. Ester is running a small hotel with her husband and also thinking through her life. Neither has made a great fist of things. Both, despite warning signs, are headed for shipwreck.
This is a highly distinctive look at ordinary human unhappiness through two well realised, very different, lives, of other authors I've read reminiscent only of George Simenon - and every bit as good. I woul strongly recommend it.
on 6 September 2012
A small silver lighthouse that the oddly named protagonist Futh carries in his pocket as a memento of his mother is a recurring theme of this short novel. So too the monologue embarked upon by Futh's father as he expounds on the flashes and foghorn of a lighthouse, during a holiday in Cornwall, seemingly a final straw that leads to his mother abandoning husband and son when Futh was twelve years old. Futh relives this incident several times during the story, creating a sense of continuity and underlining the effect of his mother's departure.
Futh is thin, balding, approaching middle age, and hopelessly inadequate. Not only is he impractical, but he is at a loss in relationships. Unsurprisingly, his marriage has broken down. He has arranged what he hopes will be a restorative walking holiday in Germany, but is ill-prepared and suffers sunburn, and painful blisters on his feet.
As the week progresses, the back story emerges, Futh's chapters interspersed with the life of Ester, another flawed personality and landlady of the hotel in Hellhaus (bright, or light, house in German) where Futh is to spend the first and last nights of his tour.
Although the book is short the characters really come alive, especially Futh, for whom even the hardest reader must surely feel sympathy and hope that life will improve for him. The prose is spare but conjures vivid images: a field, with not a cloud to be seen and nowhere to shelter from the sun; a smell of baking wafting from a window to mingle with cigarette smoke of a man standing outside; the tedious monotone of Futh's father's voice.
For a book with such an unappealing cast of characters it's a compelling read. I wouldn't describe it as gripping, but I had to keep reading. The ending is a surprise. Nothing is explicit; just subtle hints, leaving the reader to imagine what has happened. As a result it haunts you long after you've closed the last page. You ponder the unforeseen consequences of innocent actions, the effects of misinterpretations, however plausible, of events witnessed and wonder how differently things might have turned out if some mundane happening, catching a different bus for instance, had happened. You even wonder whether the ending you imagine could be different from what seems to have been signalled in the preceding pages, whether a hint earlier in the story could have triggered an alternative result. (This sounds obscure but to say more would reveal too much to those who haven't yet read the book.)
I'm not surprised it was longlisted for this year's Booker and hope it makes the shortlist. It certainly deserves to.
It's hard to pinpoint how I feel about this book. Firstly, I can see why it has been shortlisted for lots of awards. It is clever, and playful in its construction if not its subject matter. It is beautifully, tightly written, and there is not a wasted word in the whole book. It is thoughtful and eerie, and leaves you pondering it long after you have read it.
On the other hand, having read it, I found myself wondering why I had stuck with it.
It tells the story of Futh, a bunglingly incompetent, lonely, emotionally illiterate man in middle age, whose wife has left him, and who goes on a walking holiday in Germany to reinvigorate himself before coming home to start a new life. It also tells the story of Ester, a blowsy, alcoholic, German land lady, whose life has turned out to be full of disappointment and haunted with a misery she is incapable of dealing with and blots out with sex and gin. Ester and Futh's lives intertwine and their chance encounter leads to disaster.
The story is horrible in the way it maps out the futility and drab misery of wasted human existence, both Futh and Ester's. Its sense of impending doom gets more and more persistent as the story unfolds and you find yourself willing Futh in particular, to wake up to himself and his life. As it is, there is nothing to be done, and the consequence is a car crash of a book that leaves you feeling unsettled and sad with the world.