Disclaimer – this review is based upon a draft of The Light Keeper made available on Net Gallery by the Author.
Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away. She’s come to the high cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life, to work out what to do. Her lover is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him.
And someone else is also seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the cusp of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge . .
This, Cole Moreton’s debut novel, explores the themes of love and fear, birth and death, beginnings and ends with the backdrop of the cliff’s edge, where earth and sky, land and water come sharply together. A trio of characters, Jack, Sarah and the enigmatic Keeper (known only by this appellation for much of the book), along with a cast of ‘ghosts’ of others, against the backdrop of the fourth character, the Belle Tout lighthouse, near Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters.
It is this backdrop that truly sets the scene for the book, scenery that Moreton clearly knows well and loves. The sharpness of the cliff’s edge provides tension to the plot and is suggestive of the binary choices being faced by the characters. Of course, the sharpness of the edge is not as clear cut as it might seem, suddenly erosion by the elements can force a dramatic collapse, a crumbling away, likewise the unexpected coming together of the characters forces them to face decisions which suddenly protrude into the foreground having been put off or suppressed. The isolated nature of the lighthouse itself creates the perfect tension for these decisions and their consequences to be played out.
It is not just the author’s appreciation of the landscape that informs the text, it is also shaped and coloured by his faith, but not in a way that is contrived, awkward or proselytising. Those who do not share his background should not be put off. Behind Sarah’s story sits the Old Testament story of another Sarah, Abraham’s wife, another tale of regret, hope, choices and the unexpected. There’s also her Father, a priest, one of the background characters, or ‘ghosts’ who speak into the present. And then there are two Gabriel’s, one alive and one more symbolic.
The issues explored in the novel are big painful issues; abuse, suicide, bereavement and childlessness. Some might be caught out by these, especially if they judge the book by the cover, which, although it depicts the cliff and lighthouse, the threat they should suggest is not necessarily captured in the tone. That said, I did not personally find it a heavy read (maybe that says more about my background and experience than its ability to disturb those effected by these issues). The language had a light immediate quality to it that carried me along to the end, to me an attractive and surprising gentleness.
I thoroughly enjoyed the read, (despite the clumsy page formatting in the preview draft as sent to my kindle, which I’m sure this will be sorted out by publication), and I expect my appreciation will grow as I reflect. It’s not perfect, although I think the ‘Guardians’ were possibly included to reflect the well-meaning but not always helpful intervention of outsiders into such emotionally charged situations by those who don’t really ‘know’ what it is like to face them, I wasn’t entirely convinced by parts of their story. These quibbles are minor as far as I’m concerned, and I’m happy to recommend this to others (with the obvious trigger warning). This isn’t my favoured genre – I’m more of a sci-fi man myself – but it captivated me.
Goodreads review: 4/5 stars – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2727798960