Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Lots of people have a real fascination with lighthouses. They collect miniatures or pictures. They visit local lights and climb the steps up into the towers. Lighthouses are certainly scenic, romantic, and eternally appealing. (Just look at this cover!)  But even for people with this lighthouse fascination, how much thought is really ever given to the actual keepers, their families, daily life on small rocky outcrops off the mainland, and to the dangerous but vital duties they performed, especially in the time before lights became automated when winter storms wreaked havoc on ships in treacherous waters? Hazel Gaynor's newest novel, The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter, presents the life of Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper's daughter who became famous in 1838 for doing what she saw simply as her duty, and of Matilda Emmerson, an unmarried, pregnant, Irish woman in 1938 banished to America and the care of a distant lighthouse keeper relative until her baby's birth.

Matilda has shamed her parents by getting pregnant so they send her off to America to live with Harriet Flaherty, a relative she's never heard of before. Harriet keeps the lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island and although she doesn't easily embrace Matilda's presence in her life, she does give her a way to stay busy and engaged while waiting for the baby. Matilda works on scrapbooks of famous female light keepers, including the famous Grace Darling, who has a connection to Matilda's own great-great granny, Sarah Dawson.

 In 1838, living at the Longstone Lighthouse where her father is the keeper, Grace helps out with all aspects of his job. Almost all of her other siblings, besides one younger brother destined to one day take over from their father, have moved on and made lives for themselves on the mainland or at other lighthouses.  Unlike these siblings, Grace is quite content living a solitary and quiet life amidst the rocky islands and the spraying waves. Nothing has ever made her question her decision to stay with her parents at the lighthouse until she meets artist George Emmerson. She finds him living in her thoughts as she goes about the daily business of keeping watch. Then everything changes one night as a storm batters the lighthouse and Grace spots the wreck of the steamer Forfarshire and people bobbing in the thrashing sea. She and her father set off to try and rescue any survivors, eventually bringing two boatloads of people back to the lighthouse despite the terrible risk to their own lives in doing so. One of the people who is rescued is Sarah Dawson, a young mother who has tragically lost both of her young children in the wreck. Grace bonds with the devastated woman, only later discovering that she is George Emmerson's sister and was on her way to visit him. Grace's role in the rescue catapults her into a fame she never wanted, a fame that she finds intrusive and distressing.

Grace's story alternates with Matilda's story as she starts to come to know the reserved and undemonstrative Harriet, slowly uncovering the tragedy in her past that Harriet refuses to discuss. She comes to understand her own mother's longstanding cold, judging remoteness and finds a happiness in her life that has long been missing, even before the unwelcomed and unexpected pregnancy. With the help of Harriet, her new friend Joseph, and the kindly, maternal Mrs. O'Driscoll, who accompanied her from Ireland and reappears in her life when she most needs her, Matilda learns to look into her heart to make the right decisions for her future and that of her baby.

Based on the true story of Grace Darling and her part in the rescue of the Forfarshire survivors, Gaynor has woven an engaging tale of bravery, duty, love, and loss. Both of her main characters, Grace and Matilda, are well drawn and complete, both buffeted by the storms of life in ways that they cannot fully control. Grace's story is the more interesting, especially as it has its origin in truth but Matilda too is an engaging character. Reading of Grace's decision about honor and where her life lies is hard and affecting for sure. Her frustration with the intrusiveness of fame and the desire to go back to her previously quiet, unheralded life is absolutely palpable in the text. Both Grace and Matilda are isolated in so many ways beyond the obviousness of lighthouse living. Some of these ways are good and welcome and others are sad and heartbreaking. All of the losses, great and small, of life and love, resonate throughout both stories, leaving a mark on the reader's own heart. The connection between the women is well done; they are close but not so close as to be unbelievable. The ending of the novel is both beautiful and devastating. If you are a historical fiction fan, like dual story lines (both in the past here), or have secret yearnings to live a solitary life in a lighthouse, this book will be perfect for you but definitely make sure to have a box of tissues at hand. You'll need them.

For more information about Hazel Gaynor and the book, check out her webpage, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a book I'd really enjoy! Thanks for being on the tour!


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