Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson

(hb; 2004)

From the inside flap:

"Orphaned and anchorless, Silver is taken in by blind Mr. Pew, the mysterious and miraculously old keeper of the Cape Wrath lighthouse. As the lighthouse beam illuminates a swath of water, so do stories emerge from the vast ocean of Pew's memory: the history of Cape Wrath and its founder Babel Dark, a nineteenth-century clergyman. Dark lived two lives: a public one mired in darkness and deceit, and a private one bathed in the light of a passionate love. For Silver, Dark's life becomes a map through her own particular darkness, into her own story, and, finally, into love."


This is one of the best books I've read this year.

I expected it to be great, as Winterson's narratives are often fractured (they leap-frog through time, space, form and voice), but not this great.

The story: an "lighthousekeeping" orphan, Silver, tells, in a first-person narrative, of her childhood (beginning in 1969, when she and her balance-challenged dog, DogJim, are taken in by the latest lighthousekeeper, blind Pew), the history of Salts (the barren seaside town she, DogJim and Pew reside in), the life-story of the minister Babel Dark (whose tortured, 19th-century double life eventually tears him apart), and eventually, of her adulthood, post-1989 (Tim Burton's Batman is mentioned, in passing).

It's difficult, nearly impossible to do this book justice. It's sparsely-worded, symbolic, passionate, sad, cleverly funny, sublime, genre-defying and altogether enchanting.

As with other Winterson novels (The PowerBook comes to mind), it's also literary: Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the 1886 classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Charles Darwin (whose 1859 anthropological study, On the Origin of Species, also changed the world) make brief appearances, their ideas and persons an integral, interwoven part of Silver's tales.

Own this, if you can.

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