Context: Borrowed from my mate Gareth, and finished this off just as we were packing for a six week trip to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, PNG and UAE.
My mate Gareth is into lighthouses. Don’t ask why. Anyway, when I was at his place recently, he spoke very highly of this book and I read it on his recommendation as I’m not greatly into non-fiction these days. I was expecting more about lighthouses to be honest.
Whereas descriptions of lighthouses, annals from lighthouse history, careful studies of the people involved, the weather, shipping, the lights etc all fit into a book about life on a lighthouse, Hill obviously found that his notes from over 20 years before he sat down to write didn’t add up to a book-worth of material.
What I would have done was get in my car and go in search of more material from the lives of the actual people involved who must now be moldering in old-people’s homes up and down the nation. Lives that are now numbered and will be gone very shortly.
What Hill did was gather his entire range of cultural memorabilia from the early 70s and chuck it all down in between lovely bits of writing about lighthouses. Bummer.
What’s the effect? Well, you’ll have him arriving by helicopter to some remote piece of basalt and settling into a routine for five pages and then five more pages of a conversation about the Watergate scandal. Sure, the conversation is with lighthouse keepers, but come on, that doesn’t really count does it?
Quite needlessly therefore, there are separate chapters each for his two periods of shore leave where hardly anything at all lighthouse-related happens. Instead we’ve got bars, pubs, women, Amsterdam and the Edinburgh Festival. Fascinating… unless you’re reading it to find out about lighthouses.
So, this was a disappointing read for me I’m afraid, and I’d recommend it only to those who want a memoir of what it was like to be 1970s art student with bits of lighthouses thrown in.
“How on earth did you get a job as a lighthouse keeper?”
Perhaps it was time to visit the jewels of this great ocean necklace.
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