Book Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

The Lamplighters…

About the Book:

Cornwall, 1972. Three lighthouse keepers vanish from a remote rock, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. Black rocks roll beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. Now, they have a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters is an intoxicating, suspenseful and deeply moving mystery, and an unforgettable story of love, grief and obsession.

My Thoughts:

‘The sea will turn on you if you’re not paying attention; it changes its mind in the snap of a finger and it doesn’t care who you are.’

The rating I give a book is almost always decided at the end. Once I’ve finished and the story is complete and all the pieces have fallen into place. But every now and again I will reach a point within a book and know that it is a five-star read. It doesn’t matter what comes after or what came before, you just know, in that moment, that the book you are reading is next level good. That’s what happened in this one for me, I hit a particular chapter late in the book (chapter forty-one) and that was it. Everything fell into place and the prism shifted, all that had been out of focus became crystal clear. And it made me cry, the devastation and the way in which a moment in time can take so much, destroy a love, change the direction of your life, and wound irreparably.

‘In all my years I’ve realised there are two kinds of people. The ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, and shut the windows because it must have been the wind. And the ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, light a candle, and go to take a look.’

Isn’t this a great quote? I am definitely the one who lights a candle and goes to take a look. I feel like that’s what I was doing with reading this novel too, the idea of three people disappearing from a lighthouse without a trace the creak in the dark, enough for me to light my candle and take a good long look. This is a brilliant novel. Inspired by a real-life mystery, the author has taken the bare bones of this historic case and given shape to it in a different time and space. The novel is grippingly atmospheric – a lighthouse tower in the turbulent Cornish sea, the ultimate place that you cannot escape singlehandedly. The narrative moves back and forth, between the two eras; between the incident and the reflection. The structure of the novel makes for an interesting read, the story interspersed with interviews, letters, and news articles with a mix of perspectives and points of view, all of which works to keep you engaged and gripped, particularly as you get closer to the point where the keepers disappear.

I found the daily ins and outs of life on a lighthouse fascinating to ponder. I have enjoyed lighthouse stories in the past but this was the first one I have read that was about a tower actually in the sea. The isolation, the alternate way of life; not just for the keepers but for their wives as well. It was a hard life, both physically and emotionally. The author dug deep into this with all of the characters, examining the type of people they were and the effects the lighthouse life had on each of them. When you think of cabin fever, this scenario puts a whole new meaning to it. But it wasn’t only tough on the keepers, their wives were living in close quarters as well, separate from others but close to each other, forced into each other’s pockets so to speak. I don’t think I would have done all too well with that, to be honest. I’m very much a casual wave as you go by neighbour, not an in each other’s kitchen sort of neighbour. Then there were the long periods without a husband, adjusting to that and then getting him back for a block of time, having to readjust to each other only to then be separated again. All of this was shaken up and brought out into the light and I really enjoyed the way this was expanded on and woven into the story.

‘Occasionally it strikes me how much time I spend with men I’d otherwise have nothing to do with. At home, I don’t make friends easily. I don’t have the knack. People come and go; there’s no time; I can’t find a way in. Here, it isn’t a choice. We learn to live together in a narrow column with no way out. Men become friends and friends become brothers.’

There is always more than one side to every story and everyone has their own story buried within. That’s the truth at the beating heart of this novel. This was a surprising story in the sense that I went into it prepared for a mystery and came out of it deeply moved and emotionally charged. It is a novel of immense grief, of the kind that is almost too painful to touch. The Lamplighters is a devastatingly beautiful novel, one that I want to press into the hands of every person who loves literary historical fiction. And lighthouses. You definitely want to read this one if you love lighthouses.


Thanks is extended to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of The Lamplighters for review.

About the Author:

Emma Stonex was born in 1983 and grew up in Northamptonshire. After working in publishing for several years, she quit to pursue her dream of writing fiction. The Lamplighters left harbour after a lifelong passion for lighthouses and everything to do with the sea. She lives in the Southwest with her family.

The Lamplighters
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
Released on 9th March 2021

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

  1. Another for my TBR list – thanks for the great review – as soon as I saw the word Cornwall you captured my interest – 👩‍🦳📖✔️🦋🧚‍♀️🌈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve added this one to my tbr after reading your fantastic review! I love the quotes and this sounds like exactly my kind of book. I’m really excited to get it although I don’t know when that will be!

    Liked by 1 person

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