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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Lighthousekeeping

Title: Lighthousekeeping
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 232 pages
Availability: Lighthousekeeping - US
Lighthousekeeping - UK
Lighthousekeeping - Canada
Lighthousekeeping - India
Garder la flamme - France
Der Leuchtturmwärter - Deutschland
Il custode del faro - Italia
La niña del faro - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, but a bit loose

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 4/5/2004 Christopher Tayler
The Guardian . 8/5/2004 Joanna Briscoe
Independent on Sunday . 9/5/2004 Charlie Lee-Potter
London Rev. of Books . 3/6/2004 Lucy Daniel
New Statesman . 17/5/2004 Sophie Harrison
The NY Times Book Rev. D 1/5/2005 Benjamin Kunkel
The New Yorker . 2/5/2005 .
The Observer . 2/5/2004 Anita Sethi
San Francisco Chronicle . 17/4/2005 Christine Thomas
Scotland on Sunday A 2/5/2004 Andrew Crumey
Sunday Telegraph . 2/5/2004 Robert Hanks
TLS . 7/5/2004 Samantha.Matthews
The Village Voice . 26/4/2005 Ben Ehrenreich

  Review Consensus:

  Many (but not all) quite taken by it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although the novel's highly mannered idiom works better on the page than it does in summary, it's still pretty irritating, and Winterson's self-consciously intricate borrowings seem too heavy-handedly aimed at the smoky laboratories of English Lit. There are flashes of potential brilliance here and there, and her confidence in her idiom is impressive, but Lighthousekeeping is unlikely to win over the swelling ranks of doubters." - Christopher Tayler, Daily Telegraph

  • " Lighthousekeeping, her eighth novel, is a flawed return to form: a slim but lovely Winterson classic that briefly unravels, shoots into the ether, and then remembers, just in time, what it's all about. (...) What anchors Lighthousekeeping, unlike much of Winterson's more abstrusely experimental work, is the physical presence of surly Pew in his "sea-flung, rock-bitten, sand-edged shell of a town"; and of the lighthouse itself, a tangible monolith however metaphor-drenched." - Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian

  • "Lighthousekeeping is an entrancing, gleaming crystal of a book, which left me bereft when it was over. It's structured like an old-fashioned sock knitted in an endless loop on a circular needle. The whole point of Winterson's storytelling is that it doesn't begin or end." - Charlie Lee-Potter, Independent on Sunday

  • "Is this a pseud's game, or is there more to it ? The point with highly allusive books should be that the more you put in, the more you get out. This works only up to a point. (...) Lighthousekeeping slips down easily, while keeping us alert to the likelihood that there were things we should have chewed over on the way." - Lucy Daniel, London Rev. of Books

  • "This is northern magical realism, sparer and emptier than its Latin and Indian cousins. Winterson's novel cares little for plausibility, yet is careful to make the small things feel true. (...) The lighthouse works as an extended metaphor -- an obvious idea, but obviousness is one of the satisfactions of this novel: like a good fairy tale, it fulfils expectations.(...) (S)light but sparkling" - Sophie Harrison, New Statesman

  • "In Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson's metaphors have altogether slipped free of their sponsoring facts; her figurative language has turned into so many solemn doodles. The novel concentrates the worst qualities of her writing. It eschews description, characterization, scene/setting and psychology -- the components of fictional reality -- in favor of drifts of metaphor and drooling pillow talk" - Benjamin Kunkel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Atmospheric and elusive, Wintersonís high-modernist excursion is an inspired meditation on myth and language." - The New Yorker

  • "Like all Winterson's work, this is a love story, but love lives at an angle (.....) Indeed, the power of Lighthousekeeping is in its stylistic dynamic between holding itself together with the pared-down precision of its language, each word smoothed into a finely polished pebble, and spilling out in the consciousnesses, narratives and disparate times that bleed seamlessly into each other." - Anita Sethi, The Observer

  • "Winterson's creation of an enigmatic milieu, buoyed by the beauty and intrigue of the lighthouse, promises to do what the best stories do, which is allow you to trade one world for another. Yet the drifting journey of narratives, styles and stories (...) takes over the book without providing a heavy enough anchor." - Christine Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Lighthousekeeping is a sheer delight. The first thing to say about this novel is it is aimed squarely at the heart, not the head.(...) The success of Lighthousekeeping, however, lies in its complete disregard for fact in favour of fantasy, and in the seductive richness of its language." - Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

  • "No doubt many of Winterson's devoted fans will be kept happy by the familiar elements in Lighthousekeeping. The rest of us will keep hoping she will find some better way of expressing her prodigious talent." - Robert Hanks, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Lighthousekeeping is a postmodern fable about the self-renewing and transformative energy of storytelling, explored through a web of stories spun about the lighthouse at Cape Wrath (...) It is also a tribute to Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse: both books are narrative experiments driven by the desire to find love and meaning to compensate for loss. (...) On the whole, Lighthousekeeping's allusiveness is playful, if a bit laboured." - Samantha.Matthews, Times Literary Supplement

  • "What's missing, though, are all the terrifically Swiftian details that made her early works pulsate. Here Winterson sounds rushed and leans on giant metaphors to do description's work. Worse, she never fails to tell us precisely what they mean" - Ben Ehrenreich, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Lighthousekeeping is a girl, Silver, who becomes orphaned and, for want of anything else to do with her, is apprenticed to the local lighthousekeeper, the blind Pew. The local town is Salts, the lighthouse located at Cape Wrath -- and it's always been a Pew that has been the keeper there, for over a century and a half.
       Pew is a mythical sort of figure, of indeterminate age (or agelessness), but most importantly, he is a storyteller, and part of the very limited routine of life at the lighthouse is his telling Silver stories. And the life-lesson he imparts on her is the importance of stories and storytelling -- and he teaches her well.
       Among his tales is that of their lighthouse and Salts. In particular, it's the story of one of the locals from the previous century, Babel Dark, whose history is slowly allowed to unfold over the course of the novel. Robert Louis Stevenson (a storyteller from a family of engineers -- and lighthouse builders (including this one)) and Charles Darwin also show up in the vicinity, as, for example, ancient history is dredged up (a fossil find).
       Half the book describes Silver's apprenticeship, but then the lighthouse is scheduled to become automated, and they have to leave. Pew can't do without his lighthouse, so Silver is again on her own, the book then jumping ahead and along to other episodes from her life -- marked by a continuing need for stories.
       The novel is far from a straightforward narrative, broken up instead into many tales and episodes, shifting from present to past. Only towards the end does it get a bit far flung and too loosely connected, but throughout it's held together fairly well by Winterson's wonderful voice and the sheer inventiveness of many of the episodes and sentences.
       It begins already with the house she spent her first years in described as being precariously "cut steep into a bank", her early life thus rendered all askew, and always in danger of slipping away. The short chapters and sentences often veer off in unexpected directions, and Winterson displays a consistent nice touch, not overdoing any of her clever invention (or phrasing).
       Lighthousekeeping does creak slightly under the weight of all its allusions and references, from all those to Robert Louis Stevenson (from Silver's name through Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) to Virginia Woolf to Richard Wagner (Tristan and Isolde, which is contrasted with Darwin's work ...).
       Aside from that, there is a nice balance of love and mystery in the various life-stories that are related, several of the characters searching for (and occasionally, at least for a while, finding) a hold and home. The book drifts apart more than it ultimately comes together, and despite its surface richness it is a bit thin, but it is a very enjoyable read, with some wonderful moments.

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Lighthousekeeping: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959. She won the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel (for Oranges are not the only Fruit), the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, and the 1989 E.M.Forster Award, among others.

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© 2005-2012 the complete review

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