Friday, 28 October 2016

'The Lighthouse'

The fourth story in Michael Eisele's collection The Girl with the Peacock Harp has a British setting, but still takes place in the same 'Weird 19th Century' as the previous three tales. It's told from a first-person perspective, however, which makes an interesting contrast the folk-tale approach of the earlier stories. First-person tales can offer the reader 'extreme close ups' on the strange that the third person tends to make difficult.

The narrator is a lighthouse keeper, recently retired from a life at sea, who thinks his new job will be a near-sinecure. But the enthusiasm which which the board recruits him, and some talk with a typically gnomic local, makes it clear early on that the post is problematic. After all, if your job interview consists largely of a series of questions about mythical sea creatures, there's obviously something going on.

It's a nicely-crafted tale, as the lonely hero discovers that the 'Professor' who built the lighthouse and was its first keeper incorporated a mysterious speaking tube into the design. The copper pipe reaches down into an undersea cave, and when the narrator unstops it he hears more than the sounds of the waves. He becomes a victim of enchantment, and the being that casts her spell over him is described in just enough to detail to convey a sense of strangeness, beauty, and danger. Will he, and others, suffer a terrible fate as the sea-being urges him to neglect his duties at the height of a storm?

I love supernatural sea stories and this one was right up my street, or perhaps strait. My only quibble is that the author's grasp of history seems a bit wonky. Early on we read that the narrator travels to the nameless seaport by coach, but later we learn that in his youth he sailed in a steel-hulled ship. This makes no sense as stagecoaches were wiped out by the railways at the same time that steel ship construction became commonplace. But this is a minor point for history nerds.

Another story reviewed tomorrow, if I'm spared by the mer-folk!

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