Blog Tour Review: The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.

My Review

Midwinter 1972, and the Maiden, a lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall, is standing empty. The three lighthouse keepers, Arthur, Bill and Vince are nowhere to be seen, the clocks are stopped at 8.45, the table is set for dinner and the door is locked from the inside. Thirty years later, Helen, Jenny and Michelle the wives and girlfriend of the men who disappeared are contacted by an author who wants to write about the events on the Maiden and try and discover what really happened. The women, rather than being united in their grief, have drifted apart over the past few decades and the book and it’s author, are re-opening old wounds. But the women left behind know that those wounds have never really healed.

Told via a dual timeline, we learn from this trio of women about their relationships and how they felt about their other halves being lighthouse keepers. We read about their grief and unanswered questions and we are given a glimpse into what it is like to be in a relationship with a man who spends much of his time away in a lighthouse that is visible from your front door, but is inaccessible to you. We’re also privy to the events on the Maiden, watching as the Principle Keeper Arthur, Bill and Vince keep the light burning high above a raging sea. I love a dual timeline, especially when it is as well executed as this. Chapters are written from the perspective of each of the characters, with their voices being clear and distinct creating a tense and suspenseful read.

There is something about a lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall which feels almost romantic. It harks back to the days of smugglers hiding their wares in the caves dotted along the rugged coast, with the swoop of the beam of light from the lighthouse acting as their only guide to the fog obscured landscape. The reality is far more claustrophobic and isolating though. I visited Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe a few years ago and was surprised by just how little room there is to move around inside and how disorientating it is. I was taken back to my visit whilst reading The Lamplighters, imagining three burly men moving around a compact lighthouse and sleeping in beds much too small for their frames. I could imagine just how tense it would be to be living in such a place and Stonex takes us right into the action, describing the loneliness and beauty of being alone with the light in the middle of the night, of a meal shared at a small table and small irritations between one another rankling.

The sea is almost a character in itself. It is described as being a myriad of different colours, rarely blue, more often slate grey or if the sun hits it right, pink. These three men are beholden to it, they can tell what the weather will do by the swell of the waves, aware that a storm may mean that their provisions will be delayed, or worse, they won’t be able to go home when their 8 week shift is over. It is both enticing and a threat and it was these descriptions of a life like force which heightened the isolation of the Maiden and the eerie disappearance of the men. It is a constant presence in the novel, lapping against the rock upon which the lighthouse stands, it’s waves spraying the windows and cutting them off from the world.

Although this seems like a mystery novel, and to a great extent it is, to me it was more an examination of grief, loss and the heavy weight of unanswered questions. Helen, Jenny and Michelle have been forever broken by the absence of their men and although each has dealt with it in different ways, they each feel the loss. This book also explores the psychological weight of life on a lighthouse, the responsibility and the half lived lives. It is a melancholy and emotive read with evocative descriptions of marriage and loss and is emotionally complex, keeping me turning the pages and being pulled into its depths.

This is a debut novel, and it is certainly an assured and confident one. It is beautifully written with some gorgeous sentences which made me pause, re-read and highlight on my Kindle for posterity. Wonderfully plotted with excellent pacing I was engrossed, desperate to see if the Maiden would reveal her secrets. Highly recommended.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing me with a copy of the book via Netgalley and to Midas PR for inviting me to join the Blog Tour.

If your interest has been piqued, you can hear all about The Lamplighters this Thursday (4th March) at the Home With 4 Indies online event with Emma Stonex. You can buy tickets here.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is published on 4th March in both hardcover and ebook.

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