Title: Secrets of the Lighthouse
Author: Santa Montefiore
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Origins: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 5 August 2014
Bottom Line: I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did.
“Set in Ireland on the wild coast of Connemara, this hauntingly romantic novel tells the story of a young woman who goes in search of her family’s past and ends up discovering her future.
Ellen Trawton is running away from it all. She hates her job, she doesn’t love the aristocratic man to whom she is engaged, and her relationship with her controlling mother is becoming increasingly strained. So Ellen leaves London, fleeing to the one place she knows her mother won’t find her, her aunt’s cottage in Connemara. Cutting all her ties with chic London society, Ellen gives in to Ireland’s charm and warmth, thinking her future may lie where so much of her past has been hidden. Her imagination is soon captured by the compelling ruins of a lighthouse where, five years earlier, a young mother died in a fire.
The ghost of the young wife, Caitlin, haunts the nearby castle, mourning the future she can never have there. Unable to move on, she watches her husband and children, hoping they might see her and feel her love once more. But she doesn’t anticipate her husband falling in love again. Can she prevent it? Or can she let go and find a way to freedom and happiness?
The ruggedly beautiful Connemara coastline with its tightknit community of unforgettable characters provides the backdrop for this poignant story of two women seeking the peace and love they desperately need. For each, the key will be found in the secrets of the past, illuminated by the lighthouse.”
Thoughts: There are many contradictions within Secrets of the Lighthouse that may prove too distracting to readers. For example, even though Ellen does not act like a spoiled rich girl, she is still a thirty-year-old woman living at home and following the path her parents set for her. While most women her age are worrying about careers, paying bills, and finding that special someone, her biggest problem is having to tell her fiancé and her parents that she does not want to get married. As such, her life of privilege makes it difficult to fully embrace her flight to freedom. It is not so much that she is not worthy of finding happiness but more that her problems are so much less vital than most readers will ever experience.
Then there is the presence of Caitlin’s ghost. Her story is very poignant and surprising in the twists and turns it takes. However, nothing about Secrets of the Lighthouse feels appropriate for a ghost story. The fit is just not correct. Ellen’s problems are so frivolous compared to Caitlin’s death that reading the two women’s stories as they weave around each other is mildly disconcerting. Also affecting the story’s effectiveness as a ghost story is the fact that Ellen and Caitlin are essentially pitted against each other even though Ellen is not aware of this. When the protagonist is not aware that she has an antagonist, it makes for rather uninspired reading, for Ellen cannot fight something about which she has no knowledge.
The best thing about Secrets of the Lighthouse is its atmospheric setting. Connemara is a balm for the soul as much for the reader as it is for Ellen. The rugged coast, the village life, its charmingly quirky inhabitants – everything exudes a sense of calm and safety that is much like a well-loved blanket on a cold and blustery day. Even the threat of Caitlin’s ghostly revenge is not enough to sway a reader from believing in the healing properties of the Irish coast.
On the surface, there is much to enjoy within the pages of Secrets of the Lighthouse. The setting alone is glorious. Ellen is likable in her own fashion, while Caitlin is appropriately tragic. However, there is much about their stories which require a bit too much suspension of disbelief. The coincidences are fast and furious, and the story ends is the only way it can. For, this is not a tragic love story between unrequited lovers. Rather, Secrets of the Lighthouse is a traditional love story that just so happens to have a ghost as the antagonist. On one hand, it is a truly lovely story, well-written and exquisitely detailed. On the other hand, it is a bit too unbelievable for comfort. Unfortunately, for this reader, the unbelievability wins out, making this a story that is too uncomfortable for thorough enjoyment.