Saturday, 15 September 2012

A BEACON THAT BURNS BRIGHT

I’m not much one for bandwagons (I’ve yet to see Star Wars and I hid for most of the Olympics), and life rarely offers time for such onerous tasks as book reviews. But occasionally (here, and again here) I’m compelled to such appraisal. Alison Moore’s debut novel, The Lighthouse is that rare thing, a seemingly quiet story, simply told, but one with searing energy and an unsettling poignancy at its heart.

There’s an intensity here, one that emerges, not from gimmick or artifice, but from the lacunae Moore gives the reader. (It was no surprise to learn she is an accomplished short story writer, a form where the prose must work obscenely hard without appearing to, where it ruptures its boundaries, the whole always greater than the sum of its parts. Carver would have loved this book.)

Moore’s control - and the sense of claustrophobia this engenders - evokes Kafka at his best, the aching pathos redolent of an Iñárritu film. (Perhaps he’ll adapt it.)

Themes of loneliness, of how the tyranny of our pasts never quite leaves us, abound, the diffident Futh’s circuitous walk along the Rhine an apt metaphor. Motifs woven in – fragrance, infidelity, the fug of cigarette smoke – yield an ambient resonance that unspools throughout.

As the book’s two strands inevitably converge again, Moore sets up a denouement that’s both delicate and shocking, despite the dramatic irony the reader is armed with.

I’ll leave to others the tiresome debate of how literary this year’s shortlist is, how literary-less last year’s was, of readability. I always thought there were two kinds of books: those written well and the other kind.

So, back to the bandwagon this book so deservedly finds itself on. Don’t assume it’s there by proxy, propping up the more heavyweight luminaries on the list: Moore’s novel would be a more than worthy winner.