blackadderk04pic1.jpg What would it have been like almost two hundred years ago, to grow up on a lighthouse island, cut off by distance and dangerous waters from the world beyond?

Lucy is the lightkeeper of the Ellan Bride lighthouse off the Isle of Man like her father and grandfather before her, having inherited the position from her brother Jim, who went out in a storm and never came back. She shares the island with Jim’s beautiful, half-Indian widow Diya and their two daughters, and her own son Billy, the result of a foray to the mainland eleven years before.

Into this ménage come two Scotsmen, Archie Buchanan and Ben Groat, to survey the island on behalf of their employer Robert Stevenson. The light is out-of-date and needs to be replaced and Lucy’s days as a lightkeeper are numbered because the lighthouse is about to

fall under different jurisdiction. She knows no other life, neither do the children.

Initially hostile to the newcomers Billy starts to appreciate the male company which had been lacking since his Uncle Jim drowned. One of Diya’s daughters, Breesha, wants to understand the science behind Archie’s surveying equipment. Diya, herself, enjoys talking to Archie about geology, religion and things beyond the domestic. Stiff and outwardly arrogant, Archie can be ‘drawn into conversation by the technical question’; he becomes aware that he is attracted to Diya, but cannot let her know because he is set to join Charles Darwin’s voyage in the Beagle and will be away for many years.

Unbeknown to Archie and Diya, Lucy and Ben form a relationship whilst on the nightwatch.

One night Breesha has a dream, which leads her to commit a deed that could have had fatal consequences. Although at first traumatic, even melodramatic, these events and their aftermath help both Lucy and Diya think about the possibilities that might await them in the world beyond Ellan Bride. blackadderk04pic2.jpg

Elphinstone effortlessly slips into the minds of the adults and the children, weaving in retrospective anecdote, intertwining the technicalities of surveying and lighthouse building.

Her evocation of landscape and setting will stay with me: the ships that can be seen through the telescope during the day and in the half light of early morning; the hills of Galloway and distant Ireland; the mysterious stormy petrels, known as Mother Carey’s chickens; and the contrasting images of the wild flowers and crumbling cliffs of Ellan Bride, the island that will still be there when the people have gone.

© Kate Blackadder

Light Margaret Elphinstone, Canongate, 978 1 84195 805 7 / 1 84195 805 0 £12.99


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