My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Another one from the 2012 Booker shortlist....
The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.
Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.
In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.
He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.
At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.
The Lighthouse is a brief novel, following two characters that interact only at the beginning and end. Both live lonely, isolated, unhappy lives; both seem powerless to change anything.
I did enjoy how the book was written. It felt like at least four simultaneous stories were being told - Futh in present day, where he and his wife have separated and he is doing a walking loop in Germany; Futh as a child right as his mother has left; Futh as a young adult, newly married; Ester in the present day, helping her husband Bernard run an inn. Despite everything going on, it was never confusing, and the characters themselves seemed to be reliving the memories during the story, making this was very effective. In some ways this is a book of memory and how bad decisions impact the future, sometimes not even your own bad decisions.
Sigh... poor Futh:
"He could not stop thinking about all the ways in which he had annoyed his wife during their marriage."
There isn't much more I can say without giving away most of the plot. It could have seemed imitative but the characters were written very realistically, albeit hopelessly. I'd consider this a very strong first novel, but I wouldn't expect it to win the Booker (however I'm usually wrong). I'm teetering between three and four stars here, and I think this is worth the read - it only took me an evening to read.