This is the book that got me back into reading. I read it for a final project during my senior year of high school and finished it in two weeks. After falling out of the habit of reading, I considered it a feat as it marked one of the only times during school I had read a book solely based on my own motivation.
I know I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to read new books and there is a pile of books sitting next to me on my desk as a (tall) reminder. I probably should be indulging in new and unfamiliar books, but I couldn’t help but want to write about this part-mystery, part-psychological thriller.
Set on a dangerous archipelago in the Farallon Islands, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni follows Miranda, a nature photographer that decides to spend a year capturing the landscape. The wildlife alone immediately puts her to the test when she’s swarmed by mice upon landing, proving that Southeast Farallon is indeed the most “rodent-dense place in the world.” If that weren’t enough, the water is treacherous and characterized by an alarming number of shark attacks, the bedrock is coming apart, and the water is so dangerous that ships can’t dock and instead have to lift Miranda in a net with a crane to get her ashore. But she’s not alone. She’s living in a cabin with a group of scientists who have been studying the island.
Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted. One of her colleagues is found dead a couple days later. The novel follows Miranda as she witnesses the natural wonders of this place, deepens her connections with the scientists, and deals with what has happened to her.
When more violence occurs, each member of the island falls under suspicion. The book maintains a level of tension that gradually increases with each twist and turn, and is narrated through the numerous letters that Miranda writes to her late mother.
“I wish you were here. I wish you were anywhere.”
(the beginning of one of miranda’s letters to her mother)
The Farallon Islands are a real place (if you can believe it). 27 miles from San Francisco, the islands were dubbed “Islands of the Dead” by the Coast Miwok, an indigenous people that inhabited northern California. They islands have been protected as a National Wildlife Sanctuary since 1999, and the only people allowed are scientists who study the local wildlife. There is a long history of shipwrecks, ghosts, shark-infested waters, and egg wars. Yes, egg wars. The 1863 conflict named the “Egg War” was between two rival egging companies who claimed the right to collect eggs on the islands. These islands were fictionalized for the first time by Abby Geni in her book called (you guessed it) The Lightkeepers.
(Stacey Rozich, NY Times)
Miranda never settles in one place too long and is a frequent traveler. In the year she spends with the scientists, she gets to know them well. Mick studies the whales and seals on the island, and becomes a close friend of Miranda. Then there’s Forest and Galen: the shark specialists. Forest is quiet and reserved. Galen, an older man, is in charge of the operations on the island. Next is Andrew, who studies the birds on the island with Lucy, his lover. Quiet and menacing, he doesn’t seem to care much about the islands. Lucy constantly picks on Miranda. And finally there’s Charlene, the intern. Characterized by her red hair and bubbly personality, she spends a lot of time with Lucy. Throughout the book, the relationships between each of the scientists and Miranda are explored.
What I enjoyed about the book is that the animals are just as complex as the humans. She struggles with her role on the island with the animals. Is she an observer? A protector? An aggressor? From the gulls on the island described as killers to Miranda’s subsequent injury from petting a shark, the wildlife on the islands seem like something to fear. And Miranda does initially. But following her assault and the death of one of the scientists, she suddenly finds the beauty in her surroundings, almost as if she’s surrendered to it.
“The bats began to rise. It happened all at once, as though they had received a command. I could see them spiraling upward in a column of smoky gray. I watched the flock pour out through a broken window. Their numbers were enough to blacken the stars. They erased the moon.”
When I first picked this book up up, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it because it was different from the genres I typically read. But this book was so captivating and interesting. The way that Abby Geni writes just pulls you into the story. I ended up marking pages that I wanted to go back and reread. I highly reccomend this book to anyone who’s looking for something different, and a story that is mysterious and emotional and complex. And with that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Perhaps there were only two kinds of people in the world – the takers and the watchers – the plunderers and the protectors – the eggers and the lightkeepers.”