Wickedly Funny: A Review of Jeanette Winterson's 'Lighthousekeeping'
Submitted by Claire Greene of the Des Plaines Public Library.
There is something dark inside every human being—a twisted attraction to the macabre. We cannot help but slow down ever so slightly as we pass a gnarled car wreck. We cannot help but congregate in large audiences around a structure, which has caught fire, and watch with morbid fixation as it burns to the ground. We live in a society of ambulance chasers and so many police-procedural television dramas, which chronicle the deeds of the very worst sort of person.
There are a small number of people among us who have taken full possession of this innate human darkness. They are writers like Chuck Palanhiuk and Neil Gaiman. Their writing capitalizes on this gruesome enthusiasm we all, to some extent, secretly share. They cast it out into the open and poke it with a stick. The result is sometimes uncomfortable, and almost always hilarious.
I can personally recommend Jeanette Winterson with a great deal of genuine eagerness. Her writing is whimsical with an ethereal quality I've never before come across, particularly with consideration to the dark subject matter towards which she gravitates.
I recently read “Lighthousekeeping,” which chronicles the life of an orphaned Scottish girl living in a small, antiquated seaside village. It narrates the obstacles facing she and her lopsided terrier Dogjim and their quest for survival, perhaps even happiness, despite the overwhelming odds.
Winterson's voice perfectly captures the fancifully blunt world-perspective often shared by children of about 10. This perspective is particularly sharp given the circumstances of the main character's life—it seems as though the events of her life are continually thrusting her into an early adulthood; indeed, one peripheral character in particular is constantly advising her to (in so many words) grow up.
One might call “Lighthousekeeping” a coming-of-age novel, but it might be more appropriate to say that it is a keeping-of-age novel. The struggle of a young woman to maintain the innocence and whimsy of youth, ironically with the help of a gnarled old Lighthousekeeper, as all of the forces of life seem to converge on her in an effort to thrust the cynicism and drudgery of adulthood upon her.
“Lighthousekeeping,” while often dark, is surprisingly uplifting at times, and wickedly funny; the humor is offbeat and original. It provides a refreshing perspective on love and on the idea of having a place in the world of one's own.