This is my review of The Lighthouse (SALT MODERN FICTION) by Alison Moore.
In an attempt to take his mind off his failed marriage, the oddly named Futh (this appears to be both a German surname and urban slang) leaves England for a short walking holiday along the Rhine, but this only gives him too much time to brood on his sad childhood, dominated by his mother leaving home when he was about twelve. On his first evening at the ominous-sounding Hellhaus – literally "light house" – Hotel, Futh meets Ester with a parallel tale of an unhappy marriage and the price of passive acceptance of life.
In deceptively simple, plain and painstaking, unpretentious prose, Alison Moore dissects Futh's appearance, his thoughts, motivations, the events which have shaped him. All this is conveyed through his memories, behaviour, conversations with others, so we may come to different conclusions since the author never tells us what to think. Even the dramatic climax is ambiguous.
I believe the author has had success writing short stories, and this is very evident in the way that most incidents are like small, self-contained stories in their own right. In what is still a relatively short first novel, Moore has managed to produce what proves to be a tightly-structured overarching narrative, even if Futh seems to be bumbling around, often lost, much of the time.
Some readers have found Futh intolerably dull and the novel too mundane, but you could argue that the whole point is to make a very ordinary and in some ways unappealing man the subject of a story which may have all the pathos and ironical chain of cause and effect of a more flamboyant tragedy. Moore displays the power of an understated story, on a par with a first-rate minimalist painting or musical score.
There is perhaps a little too much symbolism e.g. the heavy use made of Muriel Spark's description of "the tall lighthouse sending out kindly beams which some took for welcome instead of warnings against the rocks" or the Venus flytraps. I admit this is not a page-turner, except towards the end when I knew that the "something bad" indicated at the beginning was about to occur. If you like action-packed thrillers or romance, this is not the book for you. It is also deeply sad, definitely not "feel-good", although Futh's continual failures – even the ducks don't want to eat his bread- is just about saved from becoming unendurable through the narrator's frequent flashes of wry humour. At times, I was reminded of Mr. Bean.
I agree that it is hard to believe that Angela would marry a man like Futh, but since she is seen through his eyes, we know he is too damaged himself to be capable of empathising with her or grasping the complexity of the emotions which drove her to marry him. In the same way, his perception of his relationship with Kenny is clouded by his own emotional stunting. All this may demonstrate the subtlety of Moore's writing, when you pause to think about it.
I admire this novel without much liking it, and suggest it as a good choice for a book group if you are interested in discussing the craft of writing, debating what makes a good ending, and understanding polarised viewpoints.