Books & Literature

Book Review: The Keepers of the Lighthouse, by Kaye Dobbie

FICTION: A lonely windswept lighthouse island in Bass Strait hides a dangerous secret hundreds of years in the making.

I would have preferred more history and less romance.

Feature image credit: HarperCollins

Although Kaye Dobbie is a prolific Australian author, this is the first of her books that I have read. She writes primarily historical/romance fiction. This book has a narrative structure of alternate chapters taking place in different times but in the same place. That place is the lighthouse on Benevolence Island in Bass Strait, a location notorious for storms and wild weather, in the years of 1882 and 2020.

The central character of each time period is a young woman, and I enjoyed the chapters set in the 19th century far more than those in the modern era. Both periods feature romantic overtones, but I could see no real parallel between these two female characters, until right at the end. I found the links between the historical and current events unsatisfying. Without any spoilers, they seemed too contrived for me and were only there to bring the story full circle.

The historical narrative chapters were better written and far more interesting. Back in 1882, the Webster family are the lighthouse keepers, with young Laura assisting her father in rescuing survivors from a ship bound for Melbourne which foundered in a storm. It is unusual work for a woman of the time, but she is used to her way of life and cannot imagine being anywhere else.

In 2020, the lighthouse is no longer operational, and we meet Nina who is running a team of volunteers. They are there to make repairs on the island to allow tourists to visit. However, her task is complicated by previous problems at work, the details of which are initially unknown. We do know that Nina had been devastated by the breakup of a relationship with Jude Rawlins more than 10 years ago. She is disturbed to find he has somehow managed to get himself onto the work group. His motivations for being there are unclear at the beginning.

Dobbie’s characters are largely archetypes. Among the survivors of the shipwreck, there is a pompous government official, full of his own importance, a good-looking young man who turns out to be the black sheep of his family, and Mrs Webster, an “angel in the house” as women in Victorian times were expected to be, caring for the survivors and her family. In the 21st century, we have Nina, a young woman struggling to cope with previous trauma so bad it is impacting her work, her ex Jude, who has become “a media darling” who manages to get his own way, and Paul, a gay friend, who is doing the cooking and in whom Nina has confided some of the details of her breakup.

I do understand the need for drama and suspense which is skilfully achieved in the shipwreck and rescue chapters. However, the author takes far too long to tell the readers what happened between Nina and Jude. Because we don’t know how significant those events might have been, we see only niggling disagreements and arguments between them. Consequently, I was tired of hearing how Nina was still troubled and seemingly still holding a grudge 10 years later. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the denouement would have been more powerful and disturbing if the author had revealed more about the reasons for the break up. The reader then would have had more insight into the two main characters in 2020.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: HarperCollins   
Released: August 2022
RRP: $29.99

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