Standing on ‘the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world’ is a lighthouse; it beams out a guiding light for ships at sea.
To this lighthouse comes a new keeper to tend the light, maintain the logbook, paint the round rooms.
He also finds time to fish for cod through the window, make tea, cook his meals and write letters to his wife, which, enclosed in bottles, he tosses into the waves.
It’s a lonely existence but one day a ship arrives bringing not only supplies but also his wife.
A fog descends covering everything; the keeper rings a warning bell, but one night a boat is wrecked and he has to rescue the sailors.
When the sea turns to ice the keeper is sick so then, in addition to acting as his nurse, it’s the wife who tends the light and keeps up the log.
Before long there’s an addition to the family – also logged.
Then one day. the coast guard arrives with a brand-new light that is run by machine: the lighthouse keeper’s job is no more. It’s time to pack and leave, ‘Good bye, Lighthouse! Good bye! … Good bye! … Good bye!’
The dispassionate present tense chronicle reads like the keeper’s log and the vertical rectangular format of the book reflects the external form of the lighthouse itself. Opened out there’s space a-plenty for Sophie Blackall’s dramatic Chinese ink and watercolour seascapes, as well as scenes of life within the confines of the tall circular building. The perspectives she uses, many viewed from above, or seemingly seen through the lens of the keeper’s spyglass, echo the circularity of the rooms and some of the furnishings.
I found myself reading and re-reading these pictures, discovering ever more domestic details, and wondering at the power and majesty of the ocean and the amazing talent of this illustrator.
With its look at a bygone era, this book would be a wonderful addition to any topic about the sea: the author provides detailed notes contextualising many of the events in her story on the final pages.