Casting Light on Darkness; Books: It Is through Storytelling That Love Is Kept Alive

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

Casting Light on Darkness; Books: It Is through Storytelling That Love Is Kept Alive


Byline: JUSTINE PICARDIE

LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING by Jeanette Winterson (Fourth Estate, [pounds sterling]15)

TO have written as successful a first novel as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit could be seen as both a blessing and a curse; but Jeanette Winterson has often managed to slip free of her readers' expectations, with the light elusiveness of her prose, and her understanding of both the limitations and possibilities of storytelling. At times, in Winterson's later, denser, books, like Art and Lies, you might feel that the story itself has eluded her - lost in a tangle of meta-fiction, weighed down by literary theorising - but her newest novel is a marvellously skilful juggling act of ideas and emotion.

Lighthousekeeping is a short book that leaps through the centuries, threading together the apparently "true" stories of Charles Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson with those of the orphaned girl Silver, taken in by Mr Pew, the keeper of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. Pew is blind, but teaches Silver - another of Winterson's archetypal red-haired young narrators - that stories light up the darkness; that the continuous narrative of our lives is a lie, but that we have moments of illumination, where everything is clear, before the darkness falls again.

As Pew tells Silver, lighthousekeeping is not just a matter of understanding the instruments, but of keeping the light of storytelling, the lifelines that save us from drowning: "every light had a story - no, every light was a story, and the flashes themselves were the stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides and comfort and warning. …

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