Book Review – The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve been waiting for this to become available on my library app for ages. I was really looking forward to reading it. In my head, it was going to be like The Lighthouse but without much wanking over mermaids. Using my library app has really opened my eyes to how other people approach books. I started this as soon as I got hold of it and finished it in one day. The person before me had it for ages. Is that how other people handle library books? I mean there are so many audiobooks to choose from? And they’re free? Why hold onto one for ages? Anyway, this wasn’t the book I was expecting to review today, but it feels appropriate to add it to my Halloween TBR.

In 1900, three lighthouse keepers vanished from an island in the Outer Hebrides and were never heard from again. The three men were stationed on the island of Eilean Mòr when they disappeared in December. Nobody has ever worked out what happened to them so the mystery remains unsolved over 100 years later. A mystery that author Emma Stonex was drawn to. A mystery that she wanted to use as the inspiration for her novel The Lamplighters. Instead of an island in the 1900s, she moves her story to a rock in the 1970s. We’re no longer in the Hebrides but in Cornwall. Stonex takes the basics of the story and adds her own twists. In the novel she wants to explore the effect living in these conditions might have on a person.

Like the real-life story, the novel starts with a relief team discovering an empty lighthouse. The table has been set for a meal never eaten. The clocks all stopped at the exact same time. The door locked from the inside. There is no evidence to suggest what happened to the men. 20 years later, a writer contacts the widows of the men to try and discover the untold story. Not everyone is keen to talk to him but a couple are still willing to tell their tale. What can the unnamed author find out in his interviews and could it possibly hold the key to the events on the rock? Did the men get taken by the sea? Or was there something more sinister at play? Perhaps even otherworldly?

The Lamplighters is a novel that promises a lot of things. It is set up to be a thriller that’s full of twists and turns. I was expecting this to be a spooky and dark kind of book, so was slightly disappointed by it. There are certainly some darker moments and it does flirt with the supernatural. However, I just felt as though it ended up being a normal kind of thriller. It didn’t do anything that shocked me and the ending wasn’t a surprise. It seemed pretty obvious what was going to happen and the added paranormal side of it lacked conviction. I would have preferred it had this side of the book been left out.

It also didn’t help that I’m not a huge fan of the structure. The book switches between the events in 1972 and the author’s interviews in the 90s. I don’t often enjoy these types of stories and I don’t think the constant switching worked for this story. I enjoyed the sections devoted to the women’s interviews and would have preferred these to play out before witnessing the events on the rock. As it was, the tension didn’t remain consistent for me and the pace became a bit stilted. It’s a personal thing but I prefer thrillers to be more fast-paced and consistent. A criticism of the audiobook format that I listened to, it wasn’t always easy to realise who was talking. At least not quickly. I found it difficult to engage fully with the story because I was always losing track of who was talking.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and think the writing was really good. It just wasn’t exactly the book that I was expecting but still enjoyable. The characterisation was pretty strong and I think everyone was well realised and developed. It just comes down to personal preference. The ghostly elements needed to be stronger for me to be fully on board. As it was, the book just felt like two incomplete stories stuck together.

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