Sunday, 14 October 2007

The Lamplighter by Anthony O'Neill

Done! and a strange book, in the end. It started off a bit creepy, very atmospheric, and then about three-quarters of the way through it took a very strange turn and ended up not being a horror/ghost story at all. I originally bought the book because some reviewer liked it, though now I can't remember who to go blame. Because, in the end, I was disappointed.
The book is set in Edinburgh, in 1886. I don't want to give the plot away here in case any of my gentle readers want to go get the book themselves - I hate reading book reviews that tell the entire plot. That's like the movie previews, that after a minute I feel like, why bother go see the movie? I've just seen it encapsulated on the screen! Book reviews that give the plot away are kind of like that.
It is set as a murder mystery, but ends up with quite a bit of theology mixed in and while the murders are explained, there is no resolution in a satisfactory sense. It is unbelievable to me that the main character Evelyn could survive everything that happened to her as a child and function as an adult. It is not a happy mystery, none of the characters are happy or even content, but they are all (esp the main ones) likeable and interesting. Some of the characters are funny, like Inspector Groves. But the story is an odd mix of philosophy - do we exist? do we exist only in another's mind? How do we know? - and ancient evil with roots in religion, which in this book are odd together. I think, though, the book is worth reading to see what the author was struggling to do, and to judge if he succeeded or not. At least we writers can learn from the author's mistakes!
Some of it is implausible, and I think this is what bothers me the most - bothers me about most anything in books or on tv. I want the events to be realistic. Even in fantasy, when reading about unicorns or dragons, I want there to be an inherent logic to the story so that the actions are believable. Especially near the end of the Lamplighter, the actions become very strange. There are religious overtones - hence the theology, so if you have anything against Scottish religious views, don't read this book! We aren't fully shown how the evil is resolved, or even if it is, and what happens to two of the main characters is confusing and could be debated for a long time by readers of the book.
In the end, it was an enjoyable read, and I do love the setting in Edinburgh. The city came alive for me again while reading the book.
3 out of 5 stars.
Note: I first published this blog with the title The Devil in the White City.....if you've read both books, you'll know why! plus I'm very tired....

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