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September 8, 2017

Book Notes - Alison Moore "The Lighthouse"

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In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and recently published in the United States and Canada by Biblioasis, Alison Moore's The Lighthouse is a cleverly constructed and compelling novel.

The Independent wrote of the book:

"Disquieting, deceptive, crafted with a sly and measured expertise, Alison Moore's story could certainly deliver a masterclass in slow-burn storytelling."


In her own words, here is Alison Moore's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Lighthouse:



In my first novel, The Lighthouse, Futh is abandoned by his mother in boyhood and rejected by his wife in middle age. The novel begins with Futh setting out on what is intended to be a restorative walking holiday in Germany, spending his first night at a hotel in Hellhaus. While Futh tackles his Rhineland walk and ponders the course of his life, we see in a parallel narrative the volatile situation unfolding at the Hellhaus hotel to which, at the end of his week-long circular walk, Futh will return.

I don't put on music when I'm writing because it would be like trying to follow two conversations at once, but I had fun putting together this playlist of songs that reflect the themes and situations in my novel.

"Bringing on Back the Good Times" by Love Affair

Futh's life has essentially been a search for a substitute for the mother who left him. In adulthood, "Futh can't for the life of him remember his mother's favourite song, how it goes, and as he walks from the train station to that night's hotel he keeps humming at it, trying to pin it down. In the end, he almost has it." This song of his mother's isn't specified in the novel, but I thought of possibilities. Love Affair's "One Road" has apt lyrics for Futh, whose obsession takes him down inadvisable paths and into dubious territory and who keeps getting lost: One road leads to darkness / One road leads to light. But the Love Affair track I'll put on my playlist is "Bringing on Back the Good Times", with Steve Ellis singing I've never been loved by anybody that's quite like you.

"Walkin' After Midnight" by Patsy Cline

More recently, Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" came up in conversation with the team working on a film of The Lighthouse, which is in development with the BFI, with Grant Gee to direct. This song's wistfulness is a neat fit for the narrative of the novel: I'm always walkin' after midnight / Searchin' for you.

"Angie" by The Rolling Stones

This is another possible track to attach to Futh's mother, Angela, who might hear it as a song about herself: Ain't it time we said goodbye; and while she dances with her friends, her son plays alone nearby "told to stay out of the way, getting as close as he dared, mesmerised by the noise and the perfume". There ain't a woman that comes close to you.

"Don't" by Dinosaur Jr.

Futh is eleven years old and on a family holiday when he realises his mother is going to leave. He has previously seen the clue of her packed suitcase under the bed but now, after a spat between his parents, the moment seems to have arrived: "Walking back to the caravan site, lagging behind his parents, he heard them talking although he did not catch much of what they were saying. He heard his father say, ‘What about him?' and he saw his mother shrug." This pleasing roar of a song expresses the agony of the id, of the bullied and rejected child, and the rage of the father burning his errant wife's possessions: Why / Why don't you like me, repeat not to fade but to abrupt end.

"Come On Home" by Everything But The Girl

I would have been fifteen when I first heard this song on the radio, loved it and went straight into town to buy the single. I'm putting it on my playlist as it represents Futh's longing for his mother, whose whereabouts he doesn't know: "He dreamt that he had received a letter from his mother. She had written down her new name and address so that he would be able to find her, but however hard he looked at it he could not read her handwriting." Futh marries a woman who shares his mother's name, and goes to bed alone on his wedding night – a detail which now reminds me of the story behind the band's name, ‘Everything but the Girl' being the slogan on the facade of a furniture shop.

"What Part of Me" by Low

During his week of walking, Futh dwells on the breakdown of his marriage, and on the things he might have done wrong, "small things but he supposed they built up, amounted to something. He imagined things being different. He had a reverie in which he said and did the right thing and Angela did not leave him. But it was too late, it had already happened." I've been loving Low's beautiful, mournful music for many moons now, and I will have this plaintive track to represent this second major rejection in Futh's life.

"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers

I'm going to give this classic to my Hellhaus landlady Ester, whose husband shows increasingly little interest in her ("you are not the one Bernard loves"), while she pores over keepsakes from the early days of their relationship, as if they were mementos of someone who has died rather than the man she still lives with.

"Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams

Fuck me up… / With a smile on your face / And then do it again… / You know you could / I wish you would. This expression of desire for someone who is going to hurt you could be about any one of Futh's entanglements with women in whom he sees an echo of the mother who abandoned him.

"Song To The Siren" by This Mortal Coil

Like the EBTG track, This Mortal Coil's cover of the Tim Buckley song tugs me back to the eighties, like Futh "being wrenched soul first through time" by the smell of camphor at the Hellhaus hotel which "takes him back to the dark interior of his mother's wardrobe". He is warned away from Hellhaus: he is "going in the right direction" when he is walking away, but this is a circular walk, leading him back to the hotel and the home comforts he imagines receiving there. The lyrics sung so hauntingly by Elizabeth Fraser suggest the confusing combination of the maternal and the sexual experienced by Futh: Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you.

"Here You Come Again" by Dolly Parton

Returning to the Hellhaus hotel at the end of the week, Futh finds Ester waiting for him, smelling of his mother. This is such a wonderfully bittersweet song: Here you come again / Just when I've begun to get myself together.

"Leave Right Now" by Will Young

What could be the harm…? Disoriented by the echoes of his past, Futh is drawn towards Ester and into her territory, unaware of the domestic tension that has been steadily building at Hellhaus…


Alison Moore and The Lighthouse links:

the author's website
the book's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Independent review
Kirkus review
Telegraph review

Granta interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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