The Lighthouse opens with Futh, a middle-aged and recently separated perfumier, travelling by ferry to Germany for a week-long walking holiday. In his pocket, Futh carries a lighthouse perfume bottle taken from his mother who left home suddenly while he was a young boy.
As the ferry prepares to dock, Futh gets into conversation with foot passenger, Carl, and offers him a lift to Utrecht. As they drive, Carl asks Futh whether he ever gets a bad feeling about something. Futh says that he is a nervous flyer but that he uses a relaxation technique to help him overcome his fear. There is something about Futh’s response that fills the reader with foreboding and that sense of something bad about to happen pervades this short novel.
For his holiday, Futh has pre-booked accommodation and his first night is to be in a hotel called the Hellhaus which translated means a “bright” or “light” house. The Hellhaus is run by Ester and her husband Bernard. Like Futh, Ester owns a lighthouse perfume bottle – hers is wooden where Futh’s is silver – and each is an outer casing for a glass perfume vial containing the scent of violets.
If Ester is the light in the Hellhaus, her husband camphor-scented husband, Bernard, represents the dark
Violets and camphor, like the themes of light and dark, are scents that pervade this richly symbolic novel.
For all that he carries a lighthouse in his pocket, Futh is frequently in the dark both literally and figuratively. He is not a “people person” and is “insufficiently aware, Angela often said, of other people and how they might see things” and throughout the novel, there are many instances of Futh looking for a light in the darkness –the flash of light from his friend’s torch signals, the sliver of light from the bathroom in a dark hotel bedroom, the lights from the window of a house – yet all too often, even when he sees the light he fails to correctly interpret what he has seen so that like the unfortunate sailor, he is drawn not to safety but to the dangers of the rocks.
The Lighthouse would be a terrific choice for book clubs. It is a short novel that can be read in a single sitting and provides a lot to think about and discuss.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore is published by Salt Publishing.