Publisher: Confingo Publishing
Publication Date: May 2019
I recently had a hankering for books set around lighthouses. I had only just read You Me And The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes and watched an episode of Most Haunted in which they investigated a reputedly haunted lighthouse in Wales. This got me wondering whether there were any creepy books set around a lighthouse.
Luckily the bookish belter’s over on Twitter came through for me with some suggestions. One of which was the book I’m reviewing today, Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, translated from the French by Nicholas Royle. The lovely Nicholas offered me a copy for review and I snapped his hand off and got straight down to reading it. Nicholas warned me it was a dark book, you guys know that dark is my thing! However, I wasn’t expecting it to be *quite* as dark as it was……which is great!
The story is told in the first person perspective by our narrator Geoffroy Lefayen, a man who has been asked to caretake a lighthouse for a solitary 6 month period. The lighthouse is the oldest in France and is called Cordouan. Geoffroy agrees to the job as long as he doesn’t have to have any assistance from anyone else. He wants to be completely alone there for the full 6 months.
He takes up the position in early October and we are privy to his daily tasks around the lighthouse via his dated log book. At first we are given the day to day minutia of living alone whilst tending a lighthouse and all the jobs that need to be done as well as certain other jobs tasks that Geoffroy does merely to pass the time.
As time goes on we learn that Geoffroy has a penchant for taxidermy and sets to work on a conger eel he has captured. It soon becomes apparent that Geoffroy feels like in taxidermy he is bringing his subjects back to life in a way. He is extremely proud of his work and loses himself in the task, allowing it to completely consume him.
Time ticks further on and we become more and more aware of the effects of solitary living on Geoffroy’s mental health. There are occasions where he locks himself away, refusing to speak with the men from the supply boat. We also become aware that he considers the lighthouse to have some oppressive hold over him and his actions. The lighthouse is almost a character in itself.
‘Since yesterday, however, there’s been the faintest trace of madness in the air. I’ve been checking my knives and equipment. The prospect of getting down to work makes me mad with joy’
With the arrival of a British couple who have contacted Geoffroy to ask if they can visit Cordouan, things take an extremely shocking and dark twist. I was not expecting what transpires with this couple at all!
The next arrival at the lighthouse is a female engineer called Lise who has problems of her own, namely issues with alcohol. Geoffroy quickly becomes attached to her and they embark on a strange relationship based on sex and huge amounts of mistrust. With the arrival of Lise I was expecting that maybe Geoffroy would have to start concealing his odd behaviour, however Lise appears to spur him on and becomes somewhat of a catalyst for the further descent of Geoffroy into madness.
‘What I don’t know on the other hand, is when I’m my normal self. Am I in some kind of a trance when I’m concentrating on the lighthouse, and myself the rest of the time, or the other way around? For example, I can’t explain why I was out on the rocks getting myself all worked up yesterday. Perhaps I needed exercise. Or it’s all Lise’s fault. Yes, Lise is driving me round the bend. But it’s no reason to destroy everything, or go on hunger strike, as I have been these last few days’.
Because we have Geoffroy as our narrator we are ourselves trapped in his head and we have to trust what he is telling us whilst knowing he is the most unreliable of narrators!
What I found most unsettling about this short, sharp novel is the way in which Geoffroy reveals his wrongdoings, his heinous acts, almost quietly and calmly as if to all intents and purposes it was the correct thing to do. I also really enjoyed the pacing and the way that the oddness of Geoffroy is slowly revealed with little nuggets of strange behaviour interspersed in the almost mundane initial narrative of arriving at the lighthouse and settling into day to day life.
The foreword by Patrick McGrath and the afterword by Alison Moore gave the story added depth and gravitas and I really enjoyed the setting up and rounding off of the book with their thoughts.
This is a hugely unsettling story with lots of layers to pull apart and dissect and will be a tale that you think about long after you’ve put the book down and allowed it to burrow into the darkest parts of your brain and take root there. Geoffroy will live in your head rent free forever!
Thanks again to Nicholas Royle and Confingo for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx