This quirky novel revolves around two people. One is Peter Straker, who lives in a decommissioned lighthouse on the Devon Coast, haunted by an event from his past. His only company consists of the voices from that event. Although he goes into the village via bike and boat to purchase groceries, he does not speak to anyone. He has not spoken aloud in years. The cliff is eroding at an ever-faster rate, ensuring that the lighthouse will soon fall into the sea. Straker, however, views this prospect with complacence. He hopes he will be in the lighthouse when it falls.
The other is Imogen Doody, a loud, prickly and inexplicably angry woman who works as a school caretaker. She has been left a dilapidated cottage in the village by her godfather and begins coming down on weekends to fix it up. She also begins to be curious about the godfather she never met, a friend of her parents whom they lost touch with early on. Fired by an ongoing love of the series of children's stories featuring Biggles, , she is intrigued to discover that her godfather was a pilot.
There are several mysteries to untangle. What events so damaged these two people? What happened to Doody's husband who inexplicably disappeared 25 years earlier? Can Straker ever come to terms with his past? Will these two people, both seriously lacking in social skills, ever come to communicate with each other?
Recently I came across the notion that all modern fiction may be about overcoming the personal isolation that is a consequence of urban life. While I know the cosy village life referred to as “Merrie England” never really existed, there was a certain groundedness in living in the same small area all of your life, among the same people. The need to find a way to get along with each other and to depend on each other's help is lost when we can change jobs and homes and even countries with ease. Our fractured existence, the idea goes, leaves us feeling rootless and alone.
Perhaps I have just been lucky, but I have have always found multiple warm and welcoming communities wherever I have landed. The community may be a neighborhood, or just as easily a book club, a writers' group, regulars at the skating rink, a community dance, or even people at your job. Any activity collects like-minded people who tend to take an interest in each other and can easily grow into a community as you meet again and again over the years.
Still, I agree that isolation and overcoming our fears and hesitations in order to connect with each other are important themes. They do not weigh heavily on this book, though. I quickly became invested in these two people and even in the others around them, their families, their adversaries. The pacing is good, with twists as they strike out in different directions trying to find answers or perhaps peace. The descriptions are outstanding, such as the booming wind that pummels the lighthouse and makes the suicides who regularly show up have to fight their way to the edge; they really have to want it to throw themselves over! Best of all, the ending satisfies.
Have you read any books that seem to trail off or stop abruptly without a satisfying ending?