Secrets of the Lighthouse
About This Book
Set in Ireland on the wild coast of Connemara, this hauntingly romantic novel tells the story of a young woman who goes in search of her family’s past and ends up discovering her future.
Ellen Trawton is running away from it all. She hates her job, she doesn’t love the aristocratic man to whom she’s engaged, and her relationship with her controlling mother is becoming increasingly strained. So Ellen leaves London, fleeing to the one place she knows her mother won’t find her, her aunt’s cottage in Connemara. Cutting all her ties with chic London society, Ellen gives in to Ireland’s charm and warmth, thinking her future may lie where so much of her past has been hidden. Her imagination is soon captured by the compelling ruins of a lighthouse where, five years earlier, a young mother died in a fire.
The ghost of the young wife, Caitlin, haunts the nearby castle, mourning the future she can never have there. Unable to move on, she watches her husband and children, hoping they might see her and feel her love once more. But she doesn’t anticipate her husband falling in love again. Can she prevent it? Or can she let go and find a way to freedom and happiness?
The ruggedly beautiful Connemara coastline with its tightknit community of unforgettable characters provides the backdrop for this poignant story of two women seeking the peace and love they desperately need. For each, the key will be found in the secrets of the past, illuminated by the lighthouse.
Overall, this book lived up to my expectations. The characters were very strong and empathetic, for the most part, and the ghostly point-of-view really added to the story. The plot and family secrets were predictable, but the strength of character development and writing technique kept the book from being boring. It was not quite as clean a general market read as I would have preferred, but was still fairly inoffensive by ABA standards.
The prose and dialogue were eloquent, poetic and balanced. I enjoyed the skill of Montefiore’s pen from the very first page and its stunning, highly visual opening scene. The languid prose suited the Irish setting and mysterious plot perfectly, while emphatic, punchy dialogue really helped bring the local characters to life.
Ellen and Conor were rather stereotypical for me, but the other characters really stood out. Caitlin the ghost was fantastic, and I felt the secondary characters were far more unique and interesting than the main hero and heroine: Aunt Peg, with her menagerie of animals; Oswald, the artistic lodger; sulky Dylan; exuberant Joe; the cautious brood of uncles, aunts and cousins who take Ellen under their collective wing. And Madeline, Ellen’s stern mother, was very well-written and much more multi-faceted than I had expected. Ellen was less of a heroine and more of a catalyst for me, a vehicle through whom the author introduces us to the real stars of the story—the Irish people and countryside.
If this book doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and fly to Ireland for a month, nothing will! The Irish countryside and village life were very well written, and I always had a strong visual image of the scenes and settings throughout the story. The plot and characters were firmly rooted in their real-world setting, so that I don’t think this story could be told anywhere else, leastwise not in the same way.
This book is all about a ghost watching her husband fall in love with someone new, so supernatural elements definitely predominate. I loved the opening chapter in this character’s point-of-view, and was surprised to find her the most empathetic character in the book. But the supernatural doesn’t end there, as several other ghosts appear, their relation to the living explained by the human characters at all different levels of belief and disbelief. The faith element appears to be rooted in traditional Catholicism, according to the characters who claim that religion, but none of them presents an authentic, personal relationship with God. Belief in God, like ghosts, is primarily based on cultural traditions and social expectations.
Thematically, I expected more to be done with the lighthouse. With the title and book description, I expected at least a scene or two to take place there, but in the end it was just a distant object to be looked at and talked about (though we did see one scene there via a flashback), and as a result I felt a little cheated.
For me, Women’s Fiction is generally weak on conflict and tension, as there just isn’t much to keep the action going except “I want to be in control of my own life!” realizations on the heroine’s part, and this story certainly played out that way. But as the antagonist, Caitlin stirred up trouble to keep things moving, even if at times she made the story feel a little like a Greek drama, with spirits stirring up trouble for their own amusement or magically appearing at the end to explain all the trouble and restore order to the human chaos (“deus ex machina”).
Sadly, the romantic tension was pretty nonexistent for me. The relationship between Ellen and Conor was less romance and more lust. At first sight, they simply want to jump into bed together. At second sight, they admit it out loud. That “tension” lasts all the way until their fourth meeting, when they finally hop into bed. After that, every single encounter between them is simply a brief description of where or how many times they had sex that day. And the supposed “lie” meant to divide them at the crucial moment simply didn’t work for me, except to make the ending a bit too melodramatic. I definitely didn’t feel these two earned their happily-ever-after, and I was never invested in their relationship.
While mild for the general market, much of this book’s content would offend conservative and religious readers, particularly the very frequent (albeit colloquially-spelled) use of the Lord’s name in vain. Other profanities abound, most often spelled out as the Irish characters would pronounce them. The fervent belief in and deliberate interaction with ghosts will offend many, as will the unrepentant premarital sexual relations between several couples, including some brief but more than suggestive encounters between Ellen and Conor. Characters also drink and smoke heavily. Having lived in the UK, I am aware that much of this behavior and language is culturally acceptable there, but even with that knowledge and personal experience, there was enough in this book to make an edgy reader like me uncomfortable.
The plot was fairly predictable—I correctly guessed both Caitlin’s and Ellen’s family mysteries within the first 20% of the book—but the lyrical prose and entertaining Irish setting and characters kept me from being bored. This book will appeal to mature women readers who enjoy contemporary women’s fiction in exotic settings. I do not recommend this book for younger readers, nor can I wholeheartedly recommend it to most conservative Christian readers.
This book was definitely engaging, and I could see it as a made-for-TV movie someday. I felt like I’d visited Ireland and met real people through these pages, and I would read this author again. Secrets of the Lighthouse is an intriguing escape to the wild and haunted coast of Ireland, where the past and present, the dead and the living, intertwine. Fans of Maeve Binchy and Nora Roberts will appreciate Montefiore’s soulful characters and vivid prose, but conservative readers may be offended by this story’s morally and supernaturally blurred lines.
Available August 5, 2014 from Simon & Schuster