I need to publicly thank Jodi Chromey for introducing me to Jeanette Winterson. Jodi recommended I read Written on the Body several years ago, and it was so beautiful and wonderful that when I finished I flipped back to page one and read it all over again. I read a few more Winterson novels after that, and then sadly, I kind of forgot about her. It was a pleasure to rack my brain for a new book to read and think ? I wonder what Jeanette Winterson has been up to? Out of the seven or eight novels she's put out since I read Written on the Body, I chose Lighthousekeeping.
Lighthousekeeping is the story of the importance of stories. The narrator, Silver, is orphaned early in life and sent to live with the blind lighthouse keeper, Pew. Pew tells her tales and encourages Silver to seek her own story in his words. He tells her of Babel Dark, one of the forefathers of their little town. How Dark crossed paths with Darwin and Robert Lewis Stevenson and influenced both of their work, unbeknownst to him. Pew constantly reminds her that she needs to learn the stories and keep them alive. Sadly, it is the story within the story of Babel Dark that is the most interesting in Lighthousekeeping. Pew takes Silver's dog and vanishes one night. The lighthouse is then automated and Silver roams the seaside, going from town to town. There is an intriguing little part about Silver discovering books, exploring the library and going so far as to steal a book to know it's ending. She is then caught by authorities and put into a mental institution.
It is difficult, as a reader, to question a narrator's credibility. Many times that's part of the experience of the character ? losing one's mind for example, or it is what you are meant to do as part of the journey the author has laid of for you. You may dislike a narrator, you may distrust a narrator, but to completely lose faith in the narrator?well?that's a damn shame. Winterson gives Silver all the tools to tell her great tale and then possibly mixed up her notes with another book. The story simply fizzles and borders on the incomprehensible.
It seemed that Winterson got over her head putting Silver in a nuthouse, so instead of giving us what really happened to her in there, she writes herself a couple of David Lynchian chapters and calls it a day: Silver steals a talking bird and falls in love on Capri. Then Silver rents a cabin to meet her lover. But it's all tell and no show. Winterson writes pretty passages but it seems that the story of Silver's true self and her relation to the lighthouse gets completely forgotten. Read Winterson for her words, not the story. There are some knock-out, take your breath away, passages sprinkled throughout the book, and the story of Babel Dark is very well done, but sadly Silver just seems to slip out to sea.