Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lightkeeper's Wife by Sarah Anne Johnson is a Story Full of Surprises

The Lightkeeper's WifeIf he knew I was a woman, he wouldn't say a word to me, but in men's clothes I've got an opinion worth hearing.

Reading the blurb on this and viewing the cover, you wouldn't think for a moment that it's a story about women's roles in society, about pirates, about lesbian love. Thus, this is one full of surprises.

First of all, it's not explicit. Second, there's a lot to like about this book. Let me think of where to start...

1. I love the many women in this story who battle with what society expects of them and what their heart tells them to do. Hannah is called to the sea and driven to rescue sailors in need. However, her husband believes in merely maintaining the lighthouse lights and waiting until the storm is over and it's too late to save anyone. He doesn't let her out there. There's two lady pirates at some point, fighting alongside men, trying to survive a harsh world. There's even a woman who works in ship building.

2. Turns out (I read the Author Notes) that Hannah was inspired by a woman named Grace Darling, a lightkeeper's daughter in the UK who became famous for rowing into a storm to rescue a drowning sailor. The author also says, "While the male lightkeepers were known for staying ashore to watch the lights, the women became known for rowing into the sea to rescue drowning sailors." 

I also recognized that the lady pirates were based on/inspired by Anne Bonney and Mary Reid.

3. I loved Hannah's passion for saving people and the way her and Billy work diligently on a special device to do this very thing.

Long story short, it's a tale of women battling their gender roles in the 1840s or thereabouts (pre Civil War), of widowhood, of conflicting emotions, of trying to make up for a poor decisions in the past.

I enjoyed it, especially the tales of piracy, though I had a very hard time liking Annie and understanding her. Her actions seemed strange to me, too abrupt and not quite explained--her sudden hatred of her husband, her coldness, her hate, interest in the ship... I'd have liked the story to get more in depth and explain more clearly somehow why she's so mean after the loss of a baby. Thousands of women lose their babies every day. It was even worse back then. I don't see it being the husband's fault. I thought her manner of retaliation was extreme.

On the other hand, the story did a very good job with Hannah's conflicting emotions. Should she grieve more, harder? Marry again? How does she really feel about Tom, and Billy?

Just for fun:
On Sept 7, 1838, Grace Darling helped rescue four men and one woman from the shipwrecked Forfarshire. She'd been watching from the windows on Longstone Lighthouse and her father and her rowed one mile to reach the wreck. She was lauded as the nation's heroine and even Queen Victoria herself honored her with 50 pounds. Grace fell ill and passed away in 1842 and a monument was erected on Great Ferne Island.

Thank you, Ms. Johnson, for bringing this heroine to my attention.

Further reading:

I received this via Goodreads Firstreads.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. I've been looking forward to this one because of the setting and premise - I go for historical novels about women in New England. Plus, the author and I have something else in common. (My middle name is different, though.)