PHAROS by Alice Thompson


A Ghost Story
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Scottish novelist Thompson (Pandora’s Box, 1999, etc.) travels to a remote island where a lighthouse-keeper, a shipwreck survivor, and several ghosts try their best to get along.

In 1826, for a retired seaman, lighthouse-keeping looked like a pretty cushy job. You got free rent, the work was easy, and almost all of your salary was clear profit. Cameron Black, the keeper at Jacob’s Rock (a barren isle off the west coast of Scotland) was very happy there. The loneliness that everyone considered the hardest part of the life didn’t bother Cameron: he was happy to spend his free hours studying the Bible, and he had lately been sent an assistant (Simon) to share his duties. Younger than Cameron, Simon was less used to the solitary life, but he adjusted to the routine and became a reliable companion. But their quiet bachelor existence changed overnight when Cameron discovered a young woman washed ashore on the beach. Nude (save for a locket around her neck), unconscious, and barely alive, the woman is nursed back to life but cannot recall who she is or how she got there. Cameron names her Lucia (the name of the ship pictured inside her locket) and decides to keep her on the island until she has recovered her wits. That doesn’t promise to be any day soon: Lucia appears sane and manages to take charge of many of the household tasks, but she is prey to strange visions and hallucinations. She sees people (a ship captain, a mulatto girl) and things (an empty ship) that don’t exist, and she hears distant voices crying out at night. Are these just the product of her confusion, or could they be the ghosts of the slaves kept there when the island was a secret outpost of the slave trade? And why won’t Cameron let Lucia return to the mainland? In most ghost stories, you are sure at least of who is being haunted. Here it becomes murkier as you go along.

A genuinely eerie tale, in a perfect setting and told with just the right amount of ambiguity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31810-3
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003