16 October is fast approaching - can you believe our makeshift summer is actually over? On 16th we shall know the winner of this year's Booker Prize. My money is on Will Self as I do believe his book Umbrella is a triumph and marks a milestone in today's British publishing world. However, a more than worthy contestant has to be The Lighthouse, by a first time novelist Alison Moore. This is a wonderfully well crafted piece of work. Born in 1971, Moore is not totally unknown in that she has had short stories published and won first prize in the novella category of The New Writer Prose and Poetry Prizes.
The narrative concerns one, Futh [he doesn't appear to have any Christian name] who embarks on a walking tour of the Rhineland in an attempt to assuage his torment and puzzlement at the break up of his marriage to Angela. On the face of it, it seems to be a straightforward story but it is anything but. At least two critics have referred to the 'Russian doll' element of the narrrative which is a good description of the novel as we have a story in a story in a story creating a circular effect much as the walk Futh is undertaking in Germany. In the hands of a lesser writer, such circularity could be a disaster but here it is captivating.
As he walks he remembers a trip he took with his father whose marriage had also collapsed, his wife also called Angela, leaving him with what seemed to Futh great suddenness. The memory of his mother's perfume consumes him and clearly influenced his choice of career as a manufacturer of scents. His first night on his tour is spent in a guesthouse run by Ester and Bernard. Ester also is obsessed by scents and always wanted to be a perfumier. Now, as the landlady of the Hellhaus, she occupies herself seducing her male guests as being the only way of attracting the attention of her rather brutal husband, Bernard. Already we feel a sense of impending doom and we want Futh out of the place while dreading his inevitable return there at the conclusion of his walking tour.
Moore makes us very intimate with Futh and his grief at the loss of both his mother and wife. We suffer with him and his feet that become blistered and bleeding because of wearing new and untried walking boots; he loses his way and seems continually to miss planned meals; he worries that the stick insects he collects are being properly looked after and he ponders endlessly over the curious relationship that he has left behind - that of his best friend Kenny whose mother, Gloria, lavishes attention on him - whether to seduce Futh or his father is never totally clear. We puzzle over the role of the little silver perfume bottle holder in the shape of a lighthouse that was his mother's and which he never leaves out of his possession.
Though none of this sounds like gripping stuff, this book is a page-turner and we care desperately about Futh and empathise with him, really worrying that it is all going to go dreadfully wrong. Moore has in a superb way created an unforgettable, vulnerable, curiously innocent man. This slim paperback [only 180 pages!] is definitely a must read.
Published by Salt Publishing, it is available in paperback, freepost for €7.71 from bookdepository.co.uk