Virgina Woolf‘s classic To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. One of her most popular works, a recent edition calls it “a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflicts within a marriage.”
A different tale of marriage, across the globe, is set in late 19th century California: Edge of the Earth (2013) by Christina Schwarz. Gertrude Swann arrives as the newlywed wife to the 2nd assistant lighthouse keeper, leaving her life of comfort as an educated young women in Milwaukee. She becomes teacher to the 4 children of the chief keeper, using the opportunity to study marine biology. In her explorations she uncovers a secret that will change everything.
Though Point of Direction (2014) by Rachel Weaver is a recent book, I’m calling it a hidden gem because it’s a first novel and Goodreads is doing a giveaway until March 15, 2015! Listed by NPR as a “book that pulls you in,” it contains descriptions of Alaska and modern lighthouse living that do just that. Anna and Kyle agree to be caretakers of a remote Alaskan lighthouse over the winter, where they haul and split wood, bake bread in the cook stove, smoke and can salmon, and build a greenhouse.
Library Journal says, “Weaver is also superb with the setting and atmospherics, bringing the cold, the wind, and the unpredictable and sometimes furious sea powerfully to life….a powerfully engaging psychological novel perhaps most essentially about forgiveness.” Themes include abandonment and personal failures. Anna wonders:
What are we doing out here…avoiding life? living it? In my mind, I see the lighthouse as I did that first day we drove up in the skiff. It towers over the island, straight and tall against a backdrop of mountains. I see it clearly for what it is; something to lean against, a place for me to catch my breath.
Another new title is Raffaella Barker’s From a Distance (2014), with a Norfolk VA lighthouse. And one can keep traveling onto Lattitudes of Melt (2000) by Joan Clark, in 1912 Newfoundland. Or, read a Swedish thrilller: John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor (2008; translated 2010). More romance than lighthouse is Diane Chamberlain’s Keeper of the Light (1992), in which the widow of the keeper knows the secrets in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Returning to a Scottish lighthouse, we can count on quirky, British author Jeanette Winterspoon’s Lighthousekeeping (2004) for a winding set of “fables within a fable” (Booklist). “A Beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have difficulty with that method,” says Silver, a 10 year old orphan who goes to apprentice with Pew the blind lighthouse keeper in 1969. She sluices the stairs, polishes the instruments, washes the socks and learns that to “tend the light” is to learn and tell stories.
One of these books may just be the illumination you need today!
Hidden gems is a blog series by Cathy Okhuysen of the Public Services staff at PPL, lover of historical and general fiction and contemplative music singer. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.