There have been a couple of other books based on an actual strange story concerning the disappearance of three men from a lighthouse in 1900. As the evidence for their disappearance is practically nil, the door is left wide open for speculation and great stories. This is one of them.
In this stylish version, a novelist of maritime adventure approaches the three women who were married to the missing men in an attempt to find out more about them. The wives should have been friends as they lived close by each other in the cottages by the sea and have a connection in their men's occupations. But that isn't the case. They have their reasons and are all linked.
The book is laid out in chapters by each of the women and the men in their own words. The women's world is often mundane with domestic issues around the children, loneliness and marriage. This serves to contrast the types of loneliness the men suffer at sea: the private thoughts, the darkness and confinement, the haunting and threatening sea itself. Interspersed with these chapters are newspaper reports about the missing men.
The story gets off to a dull and slow start but builds the detail. Each character has their own style of writing - one doesn't use inverted commas, for example. As the book develops there are hints of hidden things, supernatural perhaps, secrets that are too dark to reveal.
This is an atmospheric and clever novel that grips tighter the further you read until it becomes intense. The descriptions of the sea and its power, and the functions and practical aspects of lighthouses and their keepers are fascinating and a bit overwhelming. Ultimately though, this is a story of loneliness, yearning and loss. A great debut novel.
✒️ Debut novel
Published by Picador on 4 March 2021.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.