I remember when this book came out in 2004. I was in grad school and I had JUST read a bunch of Jeanette Winterson books because of a crush I had on a fellow student, and well, you honestly couldn’t pick a much better writer to share a crush over. I didn’t read this one at the time, and that’s probably for the best as it’s less forceful and passionate than her first few novels (and certainly less crushworthy). It’s still an interesting exploration of the idea of lighthousekeeping as a literary touchstone (in the very obvious example of To the Lighthouse by Virginia, which this novel makes lots of oblique nods to), but also in the metaphor of light in general. Whether a lighthouse is seen as a beacon to which ships in the water are drawn looking for safety, as a metaphor for isolation and being on the edge of existence, as a metaphor for light as a breaking down of the darkness, or in the sense of modernity, ala The Simpsons, in which the automation of the lighthouse is more isolated than the isolation of the human venture itself. There’s even the Ray Bradbury story in which a monster from the depths of the ocean is drawn to the lighthouse as a kind of mating/friendship ritual.
This novel allows you to explore all these ideas, because as far as lighthouses goes, it’s a bit of a kitchen sink novel. We still have a beautiful and ethereal voice as we get with a lot of Winterson novels, but there’s almost no ground from which that voice is cast.