For some reason beyond my understanding, The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize – ahead of such longlisted luminaries as Andre Brink (Philida) and Michael Frayn (Skios) and heavyweights Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis who failed to pass the first hurdle in the quest to collect one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.
The debut novel from short story writer Alison Moore, The Lighthouse is a slight tale of Futh, an ordinary, imminently forgettable man, who goes on a walking tour of Germany. His wife, Angela, has recently left him – a repeat of his father’s abandonment. Both women left through debilitating boredom and a sense of sparse ordinariness pervades the telling of the story.
Some critics have celebrated the poignancy and melancholia of Futh’s desperation and deep-seated sadness. Yet he is so self-obsessed he fails to understand – or even see – the seemingly minor domestic events unfolding around him. Instead, Futh struggles with the newness of his walking boots and constantly manages to miss breakfast, lunch and dinner as he loses himself both literally in the German countryside and in memories from different periods of his life.
A man of little imagination or ambition, Futh, like his father before him, can bore the pants off anyone who is unfortunate to be cornered. Unlike his father, Futh has little interest in the opposite sex. Yet it is his disconnectedness that leads to the (short) novel’s final and inevitable denouement.
It is in the small details that Alison Moore that can appeal – yet the reality for me is that as a result the novel is too domestic and too slow-paced. Futh is dull, his walking holiday is dull (there’s more talk about blistered feet than any joy of glimpses of the Rhine) and many of his memories, conveying the boredom of unhappy relationships, are by default, dull.
As they say, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck. So if it looks dull and sounds dull, it probably is dull. As ditch water, to be precise.