Mary’s health is failing and the arrival of an unexpected visitor bearing an unwanted letter – a letter with hideously destructive potential – catapults her into action. She returns to Bruny Island, off the Tasmanian coast, on a pilgrimage of remembrance and resolution.
Years earlier she lived there with her lighthouse keeper husband Jack. Her three children (Jan, Gary and Tom) spent their childhood in its pristine wilderness and her most enduring memories are of its unspoilt beauty. However this remote idyllic existence held a darker side and events eventually forced them back to the mainland and a more regular life in Hobart.
On her final trip to Bruny, Mary forges a friendship with Leon, a young park ranger who initially resents her presence but is eventually enriched and empowered by their meeting and shared experiences. Her children are respectively angry, non-committal and sympathetic about her decision to go to Bruny – her daughter would much rather her mother was “safe” and dying in a nursing home rather than out of her reach and control. Gary prefers to remain aloof from his sister’s outrage and only Tom understands his mother’s need to make this final journey.
The Lightkeeper’s Wife is told from two separate perspectives, Tom’s personal story and the general narrative about Mary and her family. This duality is a major strength in the book and the resultant shifts and turns lend a dramatic intensity to the writing. The background to Mary’s life and the freedom she finds in the seclusion of the wilderness complement Tom’s recounting of his Antarctic trip – for Tom is still drawn to the place that brought him personal tragedy and the push and pull of the cold, wide open spaces is a recurrent theme throughout the book. Ultimately this is a book about the nature of solitude and isolation – both emotional and physical.
This is a poignant and beautiful work from a promising Australian author. The insights offered into life on the Antarctic expeditions is fascinating and the author’s passion for wildlife issues shines through, including her obvious discomfort with those facets of wildlife research that result in the death of animals. The challenges and stark realities of both Tom and Mary’s stories make this a challenging and highly rewarding read. And we are left wondering about that letter right until the very end of the book.
Karen Viggers was born in Melbourne and grew up in the Dandenong Ranges riding horses and writing stories. She studied Veterinary Science and worked in mixed animal practice for seven years before completing a PhD in wildlife health. Since then she has worked on a wide range of Australian native animals in many different natural environments including Antarctica. She lives in Canberra with her husband (an ecologist also passionate about wildlife) and two children. As well as writing, she works part-time in a veterinary practice and provides veterinary support for biologists studying native animals. The Lightkeeper’s Wife is her second book – her first book, The Stranding, was released in 2008. For further information visit www.karenviggers.com
Title: The Lightkeeper’s Wife
Author: Karen Viggers
Category: Popular Fiction
Publisher: ALLEN & UNWIN
Publication Date: February 2011