Review: The Lightkeepers - Abby Geni
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Counterpoint, january 2017
My Rating: 5/5 stars
There is something utterly terrifying, yet strangely alluring to being in complete and desolate isolation… If this is a thought that is familiar, or even just sounds interesting to you: do yourself a great favor and pick this book up.
I sat on this review for a while, as I struggle to put into words why I loved this so much. It’s easier for me to nitpick at flaws and go from there, but this book is so damn near perfection (especially for a debut!!), that I find myself at a loss of words. The Lightkeepers is a novel about the unforgiving, bleak- and callousness of nature, in the broadest sense. Not just the nature that surrounds us, but also the human nature inside the protagonists. We follow Miranda, a thirty-something old nature-photographer, as she embarks on a yearlong residency at the treacherous and rocky archipelago of the Farallon Islands. Isolated from the rest of the world, with only a handful of fellow scientists and nature-observers, Miranda sets out to document true nature through her camera, without interfering, but soon discovers much about herself and her fellow islanders in the process. Setting plays a very large role in The Lightkeepers, to the point where the islands themselves are almost characters in their own right. Geni does a fantastic job of combining and paralleling the nature writing elements with character development. The harsh weather and grim conditions seem to erode not only the rocks, but also the layers of our characters away, to reveal their bare-bone emotions, motivations and the truth behind the narratives they have created for their own life. The novel is divided in four major sections, based on four seasons (sharkseason, birdseason, whaleseason and sealseason), and the transition of each season parallels a development of plot and character as well. The cyclical nature of the seasons, is also mirrored in Miranda’s internal conflicts, most prominently the grief over losing her mother at a young age. It’s not your typical “gloomy-setting-for-gloomy-character-story”, but a well-timed combination of two dynamic units. I was so blown away by how much this all makes sense, that I may have even over-analyzed this a little, so I will spare you the details, as it’ll go into gushing territory.
To sum up most of my gushery for this novel: - a haunting and dynamic setting that both terrified, and intrigued me at the same time. It’s been a long time since I pictured a books background so vividly. - character dynamics that felt as real and claustrophobic as I’d imagine the situation to be. - excellent portrayal of themes such as grief, isolation, denial and more in our protagonist. - prose that is beautiful on its own, but binds it all together to one of the best reads of this year for me.
If I had to name a point of criticism, it would be that the plot is fairly simple. The Lightkeepers is somewhat set up as a mystery-novel, but in my opinion it doesn’t succeed in the “mystery aspects”, as much as it does in everything else. To me, the events surrounding the mysterious and possibly accidental death, were a little to obvious, and the inevitable conclusion didn’t surprise me. For a mystery-novel this might be detrimental, but for the way I read the story, it felt right. It made sense in the context of the story, and was in line with the characters, which was why I still enjoyed the ending. In my opinion, the plot, in all its arguable simplicity, was executed to near perfection, and I enjoyed every page of it. I feel this review hasn’t even done justice to half of the things I loved about it. Please read it for yourself: this one comes with my highest recommendations, especially around this gloomy time of year. .
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Note: If you are sensitive to some topics, please do your research regarding trigger warnings on this book. I don’t want to include them in my review, as some are heavy plotspoilers. If you are worried about this, please look into this elsewhere, or ask me. I may include a “spoilersection” just for this if need be