Filler content with lighthouse

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #31:-

Alice Thompson
Virago pb, 151pp, price not shown

This novel is set in the 1860s, and opens with a young woman washed up on an isolated island, the site of a lighthouse. She has no memory of who she is or how she got there. Simon, the younger of the two lighthouse keepers, a pagan whose shamanistic powers have been enhanced since he came to the island, names her Lucia, after a painted ship in a locket round the girl’s neck. Cameron, the older, a rigid man of strong religious convictions, seems unsettled by the girl, but also going to unusual lengths to ensure she cannot leave. As Lucia wanders the island she sees things that the others assure her exist only in her imagination, including visions of a young coloured girl. It becomes clear that the island is haunted, and Cameron knows far more about Lucia’s appearance than he is letting on.

This is a very short novel, with little in the way of real substance. The cover blurb touches on the idea of memory being linked to identity, but the story doesn’t explore this in any depth. There’s an attempt to build ambiguity using the trick of having the ghost’s identity blurred, as popularised in films such as Sixth Sense and The Others, but at the end what we have is the usual vengeance from the past reaching out into the present shtick. The plot doesn’t hang together that well, and some of the causal connections seem horrendously coincidental, while the ending is something of an anti-climax. Characterisation throughout seems arbitrary, people acting as they do from author diktat rather than out of any consistent internal motivation. There’s some vivid descriptive writing, but that’s about all there is to commend it. As ghost stories go Pharos is pretty much a take it or leave it example of the type, contrived and unconvincing, to be read, if at all, for the language rather than the story.

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