Desert Isle Keeper
The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter
I’ve been addicted to dual timeline novels lately, so Hazel Gaynor’s latest offering, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, seemed like just the book I needed in my life. I’m happy to say it exceeded all my expectations, cementing Ms. Gaynor’s place on my list of auto-buy authors.
England, 1838. Twenty-two-year-old Grace Darling can’t imagine life away from the lighthouse her parents have run for as long as she can remember. There’s something about the constancy of the light that gives her a feeling of serenity and belonging, a feeling nothing else has been able to duplicate. Her parents urge her to find a suitable man to settle down with so she can have a home and family of her own, but that’s not something she’s interested in. Instead, she is content to spend her time assisting her father with whom she is very close with the day-to-day running of the lighthouse.
When a fierce storm sweeps the coast of Northumberland and wrecks the steamship Forfarshire not far from where Grace and her parents make their home, Grace knows she has to do what she can to help any who have survived. She and her father brave the inclement weather in a rickety rowboat to rescue a small group of people who are clinging to an outcropping of rock. It’s an extremely dangerous endeavor, but they manage to bring the survivors to safety.
This one event changes Grace’s life in ways she could never have imagined. Suddenly, people all over the country know her name, and they come in droves to meet her. All of the fuss makes Grace exceedingly uncomfortable, a fact that seems to matter to no one. She wants desperately to return to her life of relative anonymity, but this proves impossible.
One-hundred years later, nineteen-year-old Matilda Emerson is sent away from her home in Ireland in disgrace. She’s unmarried and pregnant and her parents are sending her to the United States to stay with a distant relative she’s never met until her baby is born. She has been instructed to give the child up for adoption before returning home. Matilda is understandably upset by her parent’s callous treatment, but there’s a part of her that embraces the thought of a new life away from them and their obvious disregard for her feelings and desires.
When Matilda arrives at the home of her cousin Harriet, she finds a half-finished portrait hidden away in the old lighthouse Harriet helps to manage. Glad of a distraction from her own problems, Matilda eagerly dives into a search for information about the woman in the painting and the artist who created it. What she learns will have an enormous impact on Matilda’s life, as to both what she thought she knew about her family’s history and the way she plans to live her life going forward.
I liked both Grace and Matilda, but I found myself a little more invested in Matilda’s story. There was something about her predicament that drew me in right from the start. She’s exactly the kind of heroine I love reading about, far from perfect, but incredibly relatable. I loved watching her come into her own. She’s quite confused when we first meet her, but as she learns more about herself as well as the woman in the portrait, she begins to realize that she has to live the life she wants to live rather than the life her parents have always wanted for her.
I didn’t expect to like Harriet at first. She’s a woman with a lot of secrets, and she protects herself by being incredibly stand-offish. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to warm up to her, but Ms. Gaynor manages to create a compelling backstory for her that explains her behavior perfectly. It was a true pleasure watching her and Matilda begin to forge a relationship based on mutual caring and respect, something I didn’t necessarily think would be able to happen.
There are some hints of romance in the story, but this is definitely more historical fiction than historical romance. I don’t want to say too much about how things turn out for Harriet and Matilda since that would ruin the story, but I do think it’s important for potential readers to be aware that HEAs are not in the cards for all the characters. It sometimes bothers me when stories don’t end happily, but, in this case, it feels just right. I honestly can’t imagine this novel having any other ending than the one the author has created.
If you’re a reader who enjoys stories based around a historically documented event, this is definitely the book for you. Grace Darling was a courageous woman who risked her life to save a group of survivors. I don’t know a lot about British history, so I can’t comment on how true-to-life Ms. Gaynor’s representation of these true events was or wasn’t. I can only speak to the huge amounts of joy I got from reading this engrossing tale that examines the lives of two very different women who live a century and an ocean apart, but who are linked by a shared history and a compulsion to do what is right at all costs. It’s a novel that is sure to enchant readers from the very first page and keep them reading late into the night.