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The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
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The Lighthouse (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Alison Moore

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3312633,359 (3.68)1 / 111
Member:dirkudo
Title:The Lighthouse
Authors:Alison Moore
Info:Salt Publishing (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 192 pages
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The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (2012)

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English (25)  Dutch (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Alison Moore's debut novel The Lighthouse is a quietly deceptive tale; one of those books that so gently wraps itself around you that you just have to keep reading even when you're not really sure where it's going.

This is not a novel that bursts forth with a big bang opening or one that contains any significant dramatic events. Instead we follow the slow trail of a middle-aged man bearing the oddly-sounding name of Futh, as he takes a solo walking holiday in the Rhineland. Futh's idea of a good holiday is rather simple; he isn't looking for adventure but rather a 'week of good sausages and deep sleep' that will help him recover from the recent break up of his marriage. We soon discover that his marital separation isn't anywhere as traumatic an experience as his mother's decision to abandon him as a child.

Futh is a lonely and rather hapless soul. A man who seems only half complete. He has no true friends; his father mocks his work as chemist who creates fake scents for polishes and air fresheners and his marriage is little more than a relationship of convenience. As he tramps the paths along the Rhine each day with blistered feet and sunburnt head he recalls episodes and fragments from his life.

Futh clings to his past life with the aid of a small lighthouse-shaped perfume bottle that once belonged to his mother. He carries it with him everywhere, a talisman whose violet scent always reminds him of his mother and the last day they enjoyed together before she abandoned him.

This small object, one of many motifs within the novel, takes on additional significance in the second strand of the book in which we meet the owners of a small hotel/bar called Hellhaus (German for ‘lighthouse’) where Futh begins and is due to end his holiday. Esther has a habit of enticing some of her male guests to sleep with her as a way of getting her taciturn husband Bernard to show an interest in her again. He does with the aid of dark threats and a heavy fist. Poor Futh gets caught up in their tangled lives on his first night on holiday when he attracts Bernard's mistaken suspicions of an assignation with Esther. Futh leaves the establishment on the first morning blissfully unaware of the smouldering fuse he is leaving behind in this hotel and to which he will return. Although this is not a suspense novel in the traditional sense, Moore's narrative gradually notches up the tension with each step that takes Futh back to the hotel.

The Lighthouse explores the consequences of a traumatic incident in childhood; the way the past impacts the adult self. Futh evokes our sympathy for the hopelessness and emptiness of his life and his obsession with the past, with its old wounds and childhood hurts that will always keep dragging him back and prevent him achieving from achieving happiness. ( )
  Mercury57 | Jan 5, 2014 |
The lighthouse by Alison Moore is a short, mysterious novel. The story told in the novel is clear, and the symbolism in the novel is functional and connects elements in the intricate plot. But the novel is literally studded with symbolism and references, and not all those references add up. It is as if the author is guiding and misleading the reader at the same time.

The main character, Futh, sets out to on a hiking tour of a week in Germany. His motive is to get away from his situation at home, with his wife packing, as she is leaving him. Germany is Futh''s ancestral homeland. His fitness condition does not seem optimal, but he is sure he can make it, which suggests that Futh is a rather average type of person. On the ferry, he meets a Dutchman, and is persuaded to give this man a ride to his hometown in Utrecht. Less than a week later, this man has already forgotten most about Futh, and cannot quite recall his name, which he barely recalls as moth, or something unremarkable as that.

People do not seem to like Futh. The Dutchman's mother is very rude to him, and wants him to move on; she won't have him staying. Later on, at the hotel, the hotelier eyes Futh with suspicion and refuses him his breakfast. The rude behavior of these people to Furth remains puzzling and unexplained, although the hotelier is later found to be an extremely jealous husband. The hotel's name, Hellhouse suggests that not all is well, but the German name can also be simply translated as "light house"

A clear theme in the novel are broken up marriages. Futh's parent have divorced. A scene from Futh's youth, picnicking in the dunes comes back and again, always ending with his mother telling his father that he is so boring. The reiteration of this scene and repetition of this sentence are like the revolving light of a lighthouse. A signal of impending shipwreck, i.e. the wreckage of the marriage.

Boredom and violence are observed in other marriages as well. As in The London train, the novel describes various domestic horrors and dysfunctional marriages. Futh's parents, Futh's own wife, some of his friends, and clearly, but not known to Futh, the marriage between hotelier Bernard and his young wife, Ester.

The story creates the sense that the coming together of Futh and Ester is determined by destiny. Futh seems to have what Ester is missing (i.e. the letter "H"), and they are close as the letters "E" and "F" in the alphabet. In Futh's luggage, Ester, who is a bit of a kleptomaniac, finds a small silver casket that hold a small vial of perfume. The silver casket is modeled as a lighthouse. Ester already has one, made of wood, which makes a complementary set with the silver deluxe edition that she finds in Futh's lugage.

The perfume bottles are engraved with the brand name Dralle's Illusion, a luxury brand that was popular during the first four decades of the Twentieth Century. Each year, Hamburg-based Dralle released a new fragrance on the market. Thus, Dralle's Illusion Veilchen (Violets), can be exactly dated as marketed and sold in 1908.

Ester moves the small glass vial from the wooden lighthouse casket to the silver casket. The readers already knows that as a young boy Futh had broken the glass vial in the silver lighthouse casket that belonged to his mother, spilling the perfume, the essence of violets over his hands. It was probably this experience that set Futh on a career in fragrances. For many years, Futh worked in the manufacturing of artificial flavours and fragrances, and his olfactory sense is very highly developed. The smell of violets ties him to his mother, but there are various other smells that remind him of his youth as well, such as stewed apples or oranges. The attentive reader will have noticed that Ester's name misses the letter "h", and that an "ester" is an artificial fragrance, usually fruity, such as apples, etc.

Another clue which seems to tie Ester and Futh together is that both Ester and Futh's neighbour keep a Venus Fly trap plant, which catches and kills moths and flies. Ester also has a moth collection. She catches the moths as they fly to the light of the lamp. What both lights and fragrances have in common is that they may attract and repel. The light of the lamp attracts moths to their deaths, while the light of the lighthouse should warn and repel ships, signal sailors to stay away from the coast, although ponderous young Futh has often wondered why so many shipwrecks occur near the lighthouse, as if the sailors misread the signal, and come to the lighthouse rather than go. The fragrance of flowers and fruit is attractive, while the smell of camphor is a repellant, for instance to preserve keep moths out of the wardrobe.

Alison Moore's novel The Lighthouse most of the over-abundant clues add up to a coherent picture. However, a few pieces of the puzzle seemingly do not fit. It is not entirely clear why Futh's background is so strongly linked to Germany, and why Futh's Great Uncle, Ernst Futh seemed so anxious to get the lighthouse casket back. Although the novel does not mention its dimensions, the Dralle's silver lighthouses are small and even the silver ones are of no great value, although Futh's failure to give the casket to his uncle seems to be the cause of shame. Originally, the casket belonged to Futh's Great Grand Father, but Futh's father took it when he went to England and gave it to his wife. Uncle Ernst's insistence on the recovery of the item seems irrational, unless he might be a collector striving to complete a collection.

Still, the lighthouse does connect all the men in the Futh family, as the Great Grandfather must have selected the item for purchase, Futh's father pocketed the item when he went to England, and Futh carries it around with him as a reminder of his mother. Incidentally, both Futh and his father are deserted by their wives, which strongly suggests a sense of impotence in the male line of the Futh family. While the lighthouse can be seen as a potent phallic symbol, the Dralle's Illusion silver lighthouse casket is tiny, just a few milimeters.

It is obvious that Futh has a very strong mother fixation, which originates from the age of five or six, when he broke the vial of perfume. Futh's Oedipus complex may further explain his neurosis, the fixation on fragrances, and his general inability to adapt to his environment, change existing life patterns and develop a more rounded personality.

The Lighthouse is Alison Moore's debut novel, and caused quite a sensation in its year of publication as it was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012. The novel could do with a bit more subtlety, and less symbolism. Nonetheless, The Lighthouse is a towering achievement of a clearly very promising new author. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 4, 2014 |
For a while my twitter feed has been bulging with praise for this book and I’m glad to have finally read it, if only to find out what all the futh was about ;).

Ultimately it’s a study of loneliness and life on the outskirts of society, with social misfit Futh heading off on a solitary walking holiday in Germany. As he walks he thinks about troubling events in his childhood and his marriage which recently ended.

The writing style is very much in keeping with the novel’s themes. It is understated, reporting stark facts whilst allowing the reader to draw conclusions. The fact that it’s a very short book contributes to the sense that every word matters.

The name Futh bothered me. How is this pronounced? Is it a short “u” as in “fluff”, or does it rhyme with Ruth? Does it have a long drawn-out German “u”? Funny, but these things really bother me.

It’s not one to read if you like everything neatly tied up at the end. One of the reviews quoted on the cover describes the ending as “ambiguous”. I thought that was quite a generous description. I don’t always mind endings that leave you guessing, but in this case I will admit to being a little disappointed at the finish. ( )
  jayne_charles | Oct 30, 2013 |
" I'm on the fence about the story itself but the style is lovely."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.gr/2013/10/the-lighthouse-alison-moore.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Oct 18, 2013 |
Oh dear. This little Booker Prize shortlisted novel really is quite disappointing. Let's start with the positives though (and it's a biggy). The writing is brilliant. Short, sharp and clear. Moore really is accomplished. Unfortunately, with this particular story, the style leaves the reader slightly removed and shines a light (no pun intended) on just how dull the main characters are.

I found myself uninterested and even irritated by the main characters, Futh, who is on a walking holiday in Germany and Ester, the hotel owner seeking solace with anyone that passes through her hotel.

Ultimately this is a case of (lack of) substance over style. As a writer, Moore is one to watch. As a storyteller? Well, we'll see.

Review here ( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Hats off to the judges, then, because it's superb – a peculiar exploration of boyhood trauma that does its quietly creepy work in fewer than 200 pages...Moore's straightforward prose sharpens the painful comedy of what seems a ceaseless sequence of humiliations. Futh sleeps alone on his wedding night; he later returns home to his wife in time to watch his best friend leave, zipping up his fly. He's in his 40s when his father smacks him in front of the fireplace during Christmas lunch at a neighbour's house..... The Lighthouse looks simple but isn't, refusing to unscramble what seems a bleak moral about the hazards of reproduction, in the widest sense. Small wonder that it stood up to the crash-testing of a prize jury's reading and rereading. One of the year's 12 best novels? I can believe it.
 
No Suprise that this quietly startling novel won column inches when it landed a spot on the Man Booker Prize longlist. After all, it’s a slender debut released by a tiny independent publisher. Don’t mistake The Lighthouse for an underdog, though. For starters, it’s far too assured.

 
Alison Moore’s novel takes the tale of an ordinary, forgettable man, and shows how terrible things happen in the most unassuming surroundings....It is this accumulation of the quotidian, in prose as tight as Magnus Mills’s, which lends Moore’s book its standout nature, and brings the novel to its ambiguous, thrilling end.
 
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she became a tall lighthouse sending out kindly beams which some took for welcome instead of warnings against the rocks.
—Muriel Spark, "The Curtain Blown by the Breeze"
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For Mum and Dad
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Futh stands on the ferry deck, holding on to the cold railings with his soft hands.
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The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.
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On the outer deck of a North Sea ferry stands Futh, a middle-aged and newly separated man, on his way to Germany for a restorative walking holiday. After an inexplicably hostile encounter with a hotel landlord, Futh sets out along the Rhine. As he contemplates an earlier trip to Germany and the things he has done in his life, he does not foresee the potentially devastating consequences of things not done. This novel tells the tense, gripping story of a man trying to find himself, but becoming lost.… (more)

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