The book club at Talking Tables is a tradition that has been running for several years now and it’s always been a great opportunity for the booklovers among us to get together, get reading and celebrate our love of literature. With so many great books out there, we’re often spoilt for choice and look to other book clubs for inspiration. This year we thought we’d repay the favour and share our thoughts with all of you.
This month’s book was a recommendation from the BBC radio 2 book club. The Lamplighters is based on the real-life disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 on an island in the Outer Hebrides but updates the setting to 1970s Cornwall. The narrative is split between the three men in the days leading up to their disappearance and their wives in the present. The dual time frame and numerous perspectives is initially a little taxing as you try to remember which person is which, but this is a minor quibble and most of us adjusted fairly quickly.
The book has been marketed as a mystery/ghost story which we found a little misleading. It seems more of a hook to attract readers, along with its otherworldly and surreal cover art, but quite quickly shows its hand as a story about grief and guilt in the face of unresolved tragedy. The supernatural is certainly present but it is handled in ambiguous terms and the characters are more often haunted by their own failings than any ghoul or spectre.
The men’s narrative is fascinating as an insight into the lives of people who used to work in these remote places. Much like the recent Robert Egger’s film, The Lighthouse, it shows the extreme mental fatigue of being isolated and forced into such tight confines with relative strangers. However, Stonex’s portrayal is initially more romantic and suggests a kind of refuge from the world and its stress and complexity. This doesn’t last long though as bit by bit we start to see the lighthouse invaded by the ghosts of the men’s pasts both metaphorically and perhaps literally.
On land, but isolated in a similar fashion, are the women who they’ve left behind to pursue this solitary vocation. It’s eventually apparent that even before their disappearance, there was a kind of gulf between these disparate partners. In a cruel twist of fate, the partners are able to see one another at almost all times but have no means of communication. This physical gulf becomes symbolic of the breakdown in communication between these men and women who, even when physically close, are unable or unwilling to really share the intimacies of their lives.
The mystery is the hook that propels the narrative but as the story progresses it seems to suggest that perhaps the answers are irrelevant. Regardless of what really happened, it’s the lives of those that remain and the closure they need to move on which matters. The story begins when a writer contacts the three women to ask for their version of the story and it ends with the promise that now the story is told, they can finally lay their ghosts to rest and move on.
For our next book we have chosen Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrel. We’ll let you know next month how we got on. Happy reading!
Talking Tables book club