Based on the true story of three lighthouse keepers who vanished in 1900 in Britain's Outer Hebrides, Stonex's tale takes place in the late 20th century and focuses on the lives of three women two decades after their husbands' disappearance. As the narrative moves between the women's stories and the men's last weeks together in the lighthouse, long-held secrets surface and truths twist into lies as readers piece together what happened, why, and who to believe.
The slow yet steady unwrapping of each piece of plot is exceedingly well done; Stonex knows how to pull us in deep, until we feel just as ensnared and claustrophobic as the characters. Her prose is like the sea around the Maiden: beautiful, unpredictable, and substantial. The broody atmosphere is almost tangible at times, often as heavy and foreboding as the inescapable catastrophe. With a small cast of not entirely likable characters, Stonex successfully makes us invested in what happens (and what happened). We know going in that this is a tragedy, and it turns out to be even more tragic than the initial description would have us believe. But despite the many traumas, the persistent grief, and the injustices we discover, The Lamplighters is not entirely bleak. There’s an elegiac beauty to be found here that brings to mind the poetry of Poe or Dylan Thomas.
... a whodunnit, horror novel, ghost story and fantastically gripping psychological investigation rolled into one. It is also a pitch-perfect piece of writing. As it threads together the inner lives of the men and women and gradually exposes their secret torments, the novel sets the intense and dangerous lyricism of the lighthouse’s heightened world against the banal, fretful prose of life on shore, with dinners spoiled and children crying. The descriptions of the damp, briny, windowless interior of the Maiden, the shifting seas, the choking fogs and sudden, unnatural sounds, are simply breathtaking; and, like all the best literary writing, they don’t halt the action, they lift and propel it.
The Lamplighters reads like great historical fiction, but at its center is a locked room mystery ... Emma Stonex has done a masterful job keeping the story teetering on the edge of something horrific but then pulling back to let the insinuations and accusations sink in. I could not help but think constantly of the brilliant film The Lighthouse, which depicted two lighthouse workers eventually giving in to the madness brought on by the isolation and claustrophobic feelings that such a job could bring about. The Lamplighters never disappoints and engages readers from start to finish with a mystery that may be impossible to ever solve.