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Pharos - Alice Thompson

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Alice Thompson / Paperback / 176 Pages / Book is published 2002-06-06 by Virago Press Ltd

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      18.03.2009 10:46
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      One of the best spooky stories i've read.

      "Everything on Jacob's Rock seemed to be about the lighthouse, its past and its present. The lighthouse had dominated, obliterated her own history. She needed a history"

      Jacobs Rock, a small barren island (only 1.2 miles long) off the west coast of Scotland seemed a perfect place for retired seaman Cameron to become lighthouse keeper. He enjoys the quiet life of solitude he leads there, studying the bible in his spare time, the only human contact he has is with the relief boat who comes to bring supplies for him once a month and that is enough for Cameron.

      He is sent an assistant, Simon to help look after the lighthouse. Simon is younger and unused to such a quiet life but soon gets into it. The two of them live by a set routine and find they can live peacefully alongside one another in silent solitude.

      Their quiet existence and routine is thrown into turmoil when they see a ship running aground on the jagged rocks, they reach the ship but nobody is on board...the next morning they find a young woman washed up on the shore, she seems to have no memory of where she is from or even who she is.
      Cameron and Simon take it upon themselves to nurse her back to health before returning her to the mainland. They name her Lucia, a name which is on a ship's photograph in her locket pendant (the only thing she was wearing when they found her)

      Lucia doesn't seem to be recovering her memory and starts hallucinating sure she can see a young girl on the island and hear her cries and laughter in the lighthouse.

      Simon is a strange charactor but harmless enough, his interest is magic and he seems able to bring inanimate objects to life, this is very strangely accepted by Cameron as if it is normal...worrying.

      Cameron seems the most normal of the charactors but even he seems to have his secrets, there is a room in the keeping cellar which is kept under lock and key, Lucia is told that this room is out of bounds, it's one of the 'rules' of the lighthouse.
      He later seems to want Lucia to stay on the island even though she feels ready to go back to the mainland, this is very strange for him as he leads his life following strict rules and would lose his job if he was found to be keeping somebody on the island...why is he breaking the rules when it is so unlike his character?

      Camerons younger sister Charlotte turns up one month on the relief boat and announces she has come to help with the day to day running of the lighthouse. She accepts Simons 'magic' and strange lifelike puppets as normal too! She befriends Lucia and seems to want the best for her but by this point in the book ,you'll find you don't trust anyone and presume they all have ulterior motives!

      Everybody who comes to the island seems to turn strange (or at least stranger) and you begin to wonder if it is Jacobs Rock itself which is the sinsiter force behind everyones strange behaviour. Maybe the powers they seem to have (the voices in Lucia's head, Simon's amazing 'magic') are all because of Jacobs Rock?

      On the cover of the book it says 'Pharos - a ghost story' but it really is not clear who is the ghost, who is being haunted etc...it's confusing but in a really good way as you doubt almost everything that is happening and end up having no idea what will happen next and definitely no idea how it will end. I know this could sound as though it's a frustrating read but it's the mystery which keeps you in suspense.

      Usually, with any genre of fiction I find myself able to identify and sympathise with at least one character, Thompson has a way of writing which makes you feel you can't trust anyone on Jacobs Rock and to keep your feelings to yourself. This is strange for an author as usually they do want you to become involved with the characters personalities but it works well alongside the characters feelings of solitude as you almost feel the same.

      The first page of the book is a blank black piece of paper and this seems an apt beginning for such a sinister story.
      The next double page is a map of Jacobs Island highlighting the reef off the coast, the cliffs, the lighthouse, the area of strong current in the sea, the ruined chapel, the crypt and the grave. All of these places are mentioned in the book and I like the quirky inclusion of a little map!

      A few pages into the book we are introduced to a young girl kneeling before a shrine in the ruined crypt on the island, she is mentioned every now and then but it is unclear from the past or in the present time or even if she is real or a figment of one of the characters imagination.

      The story is set in 1826 and at times it does seem slightly old fashioned but to me that adds to the eeriness and spooky story.
      It is chilling at times as you know not who to trust, who to believe, who is alive, who is dead and you can really feel for whoever it is that's alive on this remote island with the ghosts.
      The setting of Jacobs rock appears both beautiful and bleak at the same time, a perfect background to the spooky story.
      One thing that is for sure is Pharos is a highly original read! Truly magical.

      There are so many shocks and strange happenings along the way, the book is not long; about 150 pages and I read it the first time in one go as I literally couldn't put it down and needed answers. You can read it again and again because as soon as you start reading you believe everyone again and are totally fooled by the end. Fantastically written, I will have to check out Alice Thompsons other novels.

      The ending is nothing you could expect at all and truly shocking, it isn't particularly frightening but the thoughts are haunting and sad.

      The paperback of this book costs £6.99 at Amazon; I bought my copy in the giftshop at Lands End for £2 so if you live close to there it'd be worth a trip!

      Pharos was published in 2002.

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