1 May 2011

Lighthouses: literature pairs

I love it that one book can conjure up another completely different one, by its theme, subject or ambiance.

Peter Hill's Stargazing: memoirs of a young lighthouse keeper slowly pulled me into the rhythms of a lifestyle that only recently became obsolete. The routine life of the men maintaining the lighthouses off the noth west of Scotland was by no means mundane but full of risk. But more than that, the book is about being human, the tales we pass on to each other about our fundamental struggles in the face of the monumental force of nature. The wind roars on the other side of the stone tower. In a tiny space you share an aromatic meal and ponder the gossip of old men who in half a lifetime have experienced more than you know you ever will.

In contrast to this true story, Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping is pure poetry and fable. Her characters' stories are woven amid the same storm-tossed world of lighthouses but her words leap in exquisite beauty from one unexpected idea to another. There is a mystery at its heart. But the taste you are left with is that of the young Silver questioning the timeless Pew in the darkened lighthouse, while the wind and sea rages around them.

And I cannot help but make another leap here to Annie Proulx's The shipping news. The same wild force of the sea and wind. But a house, not a lighthouse, tied to the rock it crouches upon. A way of writing that couples words and images in extraordinary and exciting ways. And another character looking for their self in the stories told and histories that were shaped by the force of nature.

I loved all three!

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