The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, by Hazel Gaynor, is two stories in one: one in 1838, the other in 1938. They are the stories of Grace and Mathilda. The first is the daughter of a lighthouse keeper on an island off Britain, the second is a pregnant Irish immigrant to the United States. There is a connection between the two, but the connection is thin and hard to understand.
The theme is lighthouses, and how women are capable of running them. It’s interesting that there are several books called “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter,” because, apparently, several women became prominent in this role. This book romanticizes the role of a lighthouse keeper, which is okay as far as it goes. But somehow, I think the author went a bit overboard with this book. Visiting a lighthouse would be interesting, but life inside a lighthouse would seem to me to be solitary, and, contrary to what is in the book, somewhat boring. But we are to believe the wind, the sky and the sea enliven life to the point that is an ideal choice for a woman in her early 20s. I didn’t completey buy it, especially when she spurns a man whom she loves who is also in love with her.
I don’t like books that go back and forth between the past and the present day. Even though this one varies between the past and the past, it’s still rather jarring. I find it difficult to care about two different protagonists equally. Additionally, I didn’t like the fact that this books is all about women, that men don’t play much of a role, and that in the 1938 story, men are criticized overtly. Women don’t seem to get much support from men, in any respect or situation.
The 1838 plot is a bit overblown, with Grace performing a rescue on the high seas in a storm that sets her off as a heroine in the press. Even Queen Victoria sends her regards! Despite Grace’s distaste, the publicity goes on and on, and people send her so much money a trust fund must be set up. And the adulation doesn’t seem to drive Matilda anywhere except right back to the lighthouse.
In the 1938 plot, things seem a little too modern. Matilda ends up living in a lighthouse with an older woman, her daughter and her boyfriend. I don’t think this “would fly” in 1938. And at the end, I questioned why the mother of Mathilda sent her to stay with one particular woman in the United States.
A year after her daughter’s birth, Mathilda is living in the lighthouse, but it’s unclear where she’s getting the money to live. Plus, I kept thinking the book was going to end, but there was another chapter.
The writing in the book is good, it’s certainly very readable. I just didn’t think the plot was exciting enough to warrant an entire book.
Perhaps it’s just retreading the same material over and over again in the same scenarios. There’s only so much you can say about lighthouses and the women who run them.