SECRETS OF THE LIGHTHOUSE
Author: Santa Montefiore
Simon & Schuster UK RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Regular readers of this blog will know I have a fondness for gothic-style stories with secrets, an old house and a brooding sense of isolation. Santa Montefiore’s latest novel, Secrets of the Lighthouse, had all those elements wrapped up in a contemporary tale of a woman who uncovers a dark family secret, and the restless spirit who’s finding it hard to let go … except in this case the house is two things – a lighthouse and a castle (ah, the romance of an old castle). Secrets of the Lighthouse was a lovely introduction to the writing of Montefiore, and I’m now on the look-out for more of her work – if my sagging bookshelf will allow me.
Ellen Trawton turns up in Connemara, Ireland in order to get away from her busy London life. Everything back home is planned out for her including her marriage to a suitable man (who she is comfortable with but doesn’t love) and the interference of others has all become too much. No one knows she has gone to her long-lost aunt’s house in rural Ireland, and she’s not in any hurry to enlighten anyone. Instead, she focuses on getting to know the extended family she never knew she had, as well as a handful of interesting villagers, putting off the sorting out for another day. One of her new acquaintances is the enigmatic and attractive Conor Macausland. A widower and father-of-two who owns a castle in the area, but has not lived there since his wife’s death some years before, Conor is as drawn to Ellen as she is to him, and despite some opposition from her new family, the two develop romantic feelings. Ellen puts her fiance to the back of her mind, resolving to return to London to fix things so she can make a new life for herself, one in which she has more say. But secrets have a way of being uncovered, and who’s to say this time will be any different?
Watching all this happen is Caitlin Macausland – Conor’s dead wife. She died tragically in apparently suspicious circumstances, and now she is stuck in a spiritual limbo, unable to move on.Tormented and jealous, she watches Conor and Ellen move closer, and unable to bear it, tries to intervene. Why should Ellen have the future Caitlin will never have? As Ellen hears the different accounts of Caitlin’s death and personality, she wonders if Conor is hiding something … and if so, what? What is the price for truth?
Hidden truths is one of the strongest themes in this story, with most of the characters holding back some element of truth. Ellen hides in Ireland, even throwing her phone into the sea so she doesn’t have to face her family, and fails to tell Conor she’s engaged to a man in London; Conor’s feelings for Caitlin are not what Ellen is led by others to expect; Ellen’s mother has a secret she’s kept from her closest family (and it’s not just the fact that she has a family in Ireland); and Ellen’s cousins have secrets of their own to do with Caitlin. They’re all tied together well and I don’t recall any loose ends. The other main theme is that of family, with the author tackling questions like “Who am I?”, “Who is my family?”, “Where are my roots?”, and so on. For many of the characters, the concept of family has been impacted by hurts and betrayals, or by unpopular decisions, and many of them have to confront what family means to them, and whether that can (or will) change due to changing circumstances.
With a lovely, diverse cast of characters and a romantic, remote location, Secrets of the Lighthouse is a delightful read that will appeal to lovers of romantic suspense or contemporary gothic romance. Gothic-style novels often tend to have an air of melancholy or menace, and to a degree this comes through the character of Caitlin, as well as the mystery surrounding her death; however, this atmosphere of menace does not linger or overwhelm the many moments of lightness. I really enjoyed this book and, apart from sometimes thinking Ellen needed to stand up for herself (she’s in her 30’s but doesn’t really act like it), I had a great sense of satisfaction while reading it.
Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: A pint o’ Guinness is not my style, but an Irish coffee … yes, please.