Published by William Morrow on October 9, 2018
Source: the publisher
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From The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home comes a historical novel inspired by true events, and the extraordinary female lighthouse keepers of the past two hundred years.
“They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”
1838: Northumberland, England. Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands has been Grace Darling’s home for all of her twenty-two years. When she and her father rescue shipwreck survivors in a furious storm, Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, the subject of poems, ballads, and plays. But far more precious than her unsought fame is the friendship that develops between Grace and a visiting artist. Just as George Emmerson captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart.
1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson has been sent away from Ireland in disgrace. She is to stay with Harriet, a reclusive relative and assistant lighthouse keeper, until her baby is born. A discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s family history. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be linked forever by their instinctive acts of courage and love.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When I finished The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor, I had such large feelings that I barely knew what to say. I felt such a genuine reverence for every single character that I just had to sit still and quiet, hold my book, and absorb everywhere the story had taken them. That feeling has turned into having a hard time forming my feelings into a review that makes any sense at all. I think I’ll start by saying that Ms. Gaynor has used dual timelines and multiple points-of-view in this story structure and I think that is what helped me to be so completely sucked in to the point that I was moved to tears by the time that I got to the end.
Grace Darling lives with her parents in a lighthouse in Northumberland, England. Grace’s father is the lighthouse keeper and she assists him in an unofficial capacity, keeping the light going in order to keep the sea waters safe. Grace loves the quiet island life with her parents and is perfectly content to trade a “regular” life on the mainland in order to stay there and help them with the lighthouse. When a nasty storm rages, Grace and her father take a small boat out to collect survivors from the water and rocks, risking their own lives but finding that there only a small number of survivors from a ship that has broken up in the storm. One of those pulled to safety is a woman named Sarah who tragically lost her two young children to the frigid waters. Grace and Sarah form a slow friendship after the tragic ordeal, and they find that they have a mutual acquaintance in common: Sarah’s brother George Emmerson, a local artist.
About a hundred years later, Matilda Emmerson has traveled from Ireland to America – Rhode Island, specifically – pregnant and alone. Her mother wants her to “stay with a relative for a while” and leave the baby there, then return to Ireland. When Matilda meets her long lost cousin Harriet, sparks do not immediately fly, but the two eventually form a respectful relationship, then a close bond. Harriet has a story of her own that fascinates Matilda, even though Harriet doesn’t share it easily. Harriet teaches Matilda that she can make her own path in life, that she doesn’t have to carry the shame that her mother is trying to force on her because of her pregnancy. Harriet is the local lighthouse keeper, and Matilda is fascinated with the job. She knows that she is the great-great-granddaughter of a woman named Sarah, who was rescued by Grace Darling, a famous lighthouse keeper. Matilda loves learning about Grace and Sarah, and the connection she has to these women, and Harriet is helpful with supplementing her knowledge. As Matilda nears the date for her own child’s birth, she realizes that her connection to her long lost cousin Harriet is much stronger than she initially thought.
This is a book that I specifically want to put in the hands of several people that I KNOW will love it like I do. I want to talk about it with people. I think book clubs will absolutely love having this one as their pick. I think dear friends that read this one together will have a great time discussing it. There is so much to carry away from Grace’s story and from Matilda’s story. There is even so much to carry away from the experiences of Sarah, Harriet, and George. There is just much too much to not discuss.
When I started this story, I wondered if I would connect more with Grace than with Matilda because it almost seemed like I was spending more time on the page with Grace. But I feel like I loved both women so, so much and felt equally connected to both of them, but perhaps in different ways. I’ll spare how I felt connected with them so I won’t spoil, but I will say that both Grace and Matilda bear so much of themselves in these narratives and I appreciate that so much. They are so transparent about what they are thinking and doing, and how they feel about everything. I can’t help but respect characters that are so honest because they make me feel more emotionally invested and able to experience the story on a grand and deeper level.
AND OH HOW I FELT THIS STORY! With Grace, I felt a little bit of frustration, not with the character, but at how things just kept unfolding for her. I just felt heartache. She had some scenes that were happy and made me smile, but so many of her scenes were very raw. Several times, her heart wanted things, but her mind battled with her heart and she would often choose what she thought was something that was better for everyone else, and she put herself and her happiness last. Grace had an admirable desire to do the right thing. She just seemed like a wonderful, genuine, caring person. So well loved. Her legacy was huge. But my goodness, how everything panned out for her tugged at my heart in a big, big way.
With Matilda, I felt so much hope. Even in the beginning when she was being sent away by her mother and shamed for being pregnant, I still felt hope for her. As she struggled with her identity and place in the world, and as she struggled to fit in and connect with Harriet, I was holding my breath with hope. And her story has such beautiful moments, I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion (a tear or two, it’s who I am!). And yes, there is some heartache in there too, and it felt big. But Matilda’s was overall more hopeful than Grace’s.
My eyes were stinging when I learned of the connection between these two women, separated by many years. And my eyes are stinging right now as I type this so I’m going to walk away from this review. But just know that I loved this book so much. This is easily one of my favorite books from 2018.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a treasure. These characters aren’t complicated, unlikable, or difficult to read. There is no drama here. This just isn’t one of those stories. This is two women, two groups of people really, separated by time, but connected. It is so beautifully written and I recommend it to everyone that loves big, sweeping historical fiction with wonderful characters with big, beautiful stories.