Jeanette Winterson’s simple tale of an orphan is one to remember. Set in the vertiginous and fictional town of Salts in Scotland, ten-year-old Silver goes to live with the lighthouse-keeper Pew after her mother’s death. Silver discovers that lighthousekeeping is not just about the light; it’s about storytelling and narrating our way through the world. When Pew is made redundant due to the lighthouse becoming automated, Silver is forced to embark on her own story, one that will prove more difficult than she imagines.
Winterson has the knack of simple narration that makes us love the characters without being over-emotional, which is what really drives this story forward. We hardly ever hear directly of Silver’s emotions, yet we come to understand that she is a sensitive person who has had great difficulty coming to terms with the real world outside the magic of the lighthouse. Once again Winterson tells the tale of discovering an identity, and she does not disappoint.
Lighthousekeeping is remarkable for another reason though – its mixing of literary heritage. The author Robert Louis Stevenson features in the novel, as do Stevenson’s own characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as well as various epigrams from novelists such as E M Forster. Those familiar with Treasure Island will recognise the names Silver and Pew (who is also blind in Winterson’s story). Winterson fabricates a new world with new stories but also reminds us of the rich literary heritage that Britain has, therefore bringing new light to the act of storytelling itself.
Although the narration can sometimes be a little mixed up and possibly confusing for some, it’s refreshing to read a novel through the eyes of someone who takes everything at face value, rather than having to wade through pages and pages of over-emotional descriptions. The narrator herself states early on that she has difficulty with beginnings, middles, and ends, which can make for a haphazard telling, but it pressed all the right buttons for me. Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping is perfect for anyone who wants a refreshing and simple read this summer holiday and it proves Winterson’s class when it comes novel writing.