The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

Publisher: Pan MacMillan Publication Date: March 2021

Pan MacMillan:

Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.

My review:

Humans are always drawn to the unexplained and mysterious. Perhaps because it is a reminder of our own frailty and the transitory nature of an individual’s experience on Earth. The idea that humans may somehow escape and outwit the fate of everyone else is a compelling one. Emma Stonex explores this through her debut ‘The Lamplighters’ which is a fictional exploration based on the real-life disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from Eilean Mor, one of the remote islands in the Outer Hebrides. She offers multiple suggestions as to the fate of these three men and their absence in December 1900.

Reading this novel during the days between Christmas and New Year was timely as this was the same time, over a 120 years ago that these men disappeared. Although now it is largely assumed the men were washed out to sea whilst attempting to secure equipment, over the years lots of other theories have emerged ranging from being captured both by other humans or supernatural entities to the men themselves elaborately crafting their own escape. Certain details remain unexplained such as the doors being bolted from the inside and the clocks stopping at the same time. Ultimately, we will never know with absolute certainty the fates of these men or their last movements or thoughts and so the desire to complete the puzzle will always be a compelling one.

Even though this event drives the narrative, I felt that Stonex’s writing was more concerned with the exploration of the psychology of loneliness. The writer changes the dates of events splitting the narrative between the 1970s where we meet the three lightkeepers and then the 1990s where we are introduced to the lightkeepers’ partners who are all still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Each character is isolated and lonely in their separate ways, whether it be a physical, emotional or a psychological sense of entrapment despite being a ‘populated’ book communication and connection are missing for all of them. This is particularly poignant and stark next to the vastness of the ocean which felt like a character itself along with The Maiden, the name of the lighthouse, which stands ominous and foreboding in the ocean itself. Stonex deftly shows both these elements to be both unforgiving and uncaring. That despite the trials and tribulations of the human characters around them they, with their water and stone, will continue and endure whilst all else will be swallowed up by the passage of time.

Thank you to Pan MacMillan and Net Galley for my ARC.

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