March has been rough. My brain flat-out gave up, and refused to participate. I found reading extremely difficult because I couldn’t focus. Maybe it was because it had been a year since the COVID crisis really blew up in Los Angeles, and I subconsciously wanted to mark the occasion with a bout of mental stillness? I have no idea.
But the good news is that my temporary reading slump is now over, yay! And the book that rescued me from my literary quagmire was a phenomenal novel by Emma Stonex, The Lamplighters (published by Viking in the US, Picador in the UK).
I love books that involve the sea, or some kind of body of water. Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under, A.G. Slatter’s recent novel All The Murmuring Bones, On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu; these are just recent examples, and this topic is probably worthy of its own blog post. Anyway, The Lamplighters not only delivers on my nautical fascination, but throw in a lighthouse, and then lighthouse keepers who mysteriously disappear?! Get. In. My. Brain!
Here’s a snippet of the Goodreads plot summary:
“Cornwall, 1972. Three lighthouse keepers go missing from a remote rock miles from the English coast. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped in the living room and kitchen. A table is laid for a meal not eaten. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a storm raging round the tower – but the skies have been clear all week.”
I started this book pretty much as soon as it hit my Kindle on March 16th, and had finished it by the morning of March 20th. It wasn’t only the mystery of the disappearing lighthouse keepers that hypnotized me; the majority of this book focuses on the keepers’ wives and partners, and the aftermath of the tragedy. This is mostly a story about the many forms of loneliness, grief, and recovery, which sometimes present themselves in very surprising ways.
As soon as I read the first chapter, which accounts the relief crew finding the seemingly abandoned lighthouse, I knew Stonex was an incredible writer. The vivid images she created really dragged me into this uncertain world, but always tinged with the inescapable presence of the sea. The Lamplighters is one of my books of this year. Get ahead of the curve and read it as soon as you can.
Continuing the water theme, I also finally finished Sisters by a River, by Barbara Comyns, a series of vignettes inspired by Comyns slightly bonkers childhood. I love Comyns writing style, it’s just feels so familiar. She creates a sense of comfort, and then she’ll throw in a nightmarish statement, and continue as if everything is completely normal. My favorite Comyns is The Vet’s Daughter, but all her work has a certain charm. If you’re interested in reading Comyns, Sisters by a River is a great starting point.
On what is probably my third or fourth attempt, I’m finally making headway with Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Oddly enough, I think it helped that this time, I read Morrison’s introduction about how she started to write it, and where the inspiration came from. I don’t usually read introductions to novels, as I don’t want to find out too much about the plot, but this one was strangely helpful in providing context.
I’m also listening to the audiobook of The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler. It’s incredibly graphic, and sometimes difficult to listen to. Butler was a phenomenal talent, wasn’t she? I’m glad she’s getting some wider recognition.
I’m also attempting to read One Moonlit Night, by Caradog Prichard, a Welsh writer. It’s a buddy read with Contrary Reader, but I’m the worst reading buddy ever, what with my reading slump. It’s strange so far, but in an appealing way, so that’s high on my “get it bloody finished” pile.
I’m also reading Folklorn, by Angela Mi Young Hur, which switches between Korean folklore and the challenges of being a particle physicist. It’s great so far, and started with a wonderful bleak story about a girl meeting a horrific fate involving a bell.
I’ve also got some incredibly exciting books lined up on my NetGalley list such new novels from Christina Henry, and Cadwell Turnbull. I’m also incredibly intrigued Chouette by Claire Oshetsky. From the blurb:
“Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.””
If you know my absurd taste in novels, it won’t surprise you to know that this was an instant request.
I’m also incredibly happy to have access to The Letters of Shirley Jackson, a collection of the author’s letters, compiled by her son. I’m excited to read it, but am also a little torn over whether Jackson would approve of the publication. But given my mild Jackson obsession, I’m thrilled to get a new insight into an extraordinary woman.
Epilogue: I wrote this post a couple of days before publishing it, in which time I finished reading Beloved. I may write something about it, but at this point in my life, it is the best book I have ever read.