Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (2021)

Blurb

They say we’ll never know what happened to those men. They say the sea keeps its secrets . . .

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 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.

Review

This book was another me-treat that I could not resist – I’d seen excellent reviews, and the Waterstones special edition is absolutely gorgeous (I’m a sucker for sprayed edges!). Despite my towering TBR, I decided I had been patient long enough, and finally managed to dive headfirst into life on the Maiden.

There is so much here to enjoy, from the beautifully atmospheric writing to the compelling mystery at the centre of the story. It is always refreshing to read a story with a really strong hook, a narrative drive that pushes you forward like a surging wave (I’m sorry, I’m going to find it very hard to avoid sea metaphors in this review – the sea is such a strong presence, almost a character in its own right). There is a delicious tension between wanting to unravel the mystery and find out the truth and revelling in the gorgeous language, not wanting the book to end – this, to me, is the sign of a pretty perfect novel.

I found so much to fascinate me in this book, from the day to day lives of the keepers in the Maiden tower, whose strange existence bears an odd resemblance to some of our own recent lockdown experiences, though their monotony and isolation is of course much more extreme, to the dynamics at play between the women ‘left behind’. It’s rare that two parallel narratives are both as interesting as each other, but I was as happy to spend time with Helen, Jenny and Michelle on the mainland, exploring their relationships with each other and with their absent partners, as I was on the Maiden with Arthur, Bill and Vince. There is a lovely ebb and flow (sorry, I’m doing it again) between the two strands of the narrative, and it’s a testament to Stonex’s skill that the complex structure works so well.

This book really hit the spot for me; I love beautiful prose and evocative writing, but I also love a damn good story, and when the two come together, it is reading heaven. I am entirely unsurprised by the praise that has been heaped upon this wonderful novel – every bit of it is thoroughly deserved. Both thrilling and literary, dramatic and meditative, this ticks all the boxes, and if you haven’t already had the pleasure, I highly recommend a trip to the lighthouse as soon as possible.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is published by Picador and is available to purchase here.

4 thoughts on “Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (2021)

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