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Friday, November 28, 2014


Compelling story focusing on an unusual subject will definitely make you want to read it over again. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Marguerite Poland’s latest novel, The Keeper, will be welcomed by her thousands of fans as another gem of this author’s rich vocabulary and extensive grasp of characterisation, emotions and environment.

The Keeper features the story of two generations of lighthouse keepers – and moves between the two time frames.

Set in 1957, it offers the poignant but fascinating story of a father and son, both lighthouse keepers, and their wives as well as the inhabitants of an isolated island with its cold winds and sea battered rocks off the south-eastern coast of South Africa. While reading the book, I connected so strongly with the island’s setting, that I often felt I needed to grab a jersey!

The Keeper’s main characters are keenly drawn. There’s father Karel and his wife Louisa, son Hannes and his wife Aletta, friends Maisie and Cecil Beukes, guano worker Misklip and Rika du Pre, the senior sister at the hospital where Hannes recovers from a serious fall.

At the time this novel is set, keepers are bound by stringent rules: Never leave the light and never cross the line (social structures). For the women, this lonely life means that they become of secondary importance in their husband’s lives. The lighthouse is a demanding mistress.

Poland’s descriptive skills are so strong that if this becomes a film, as I hope it will, most of the Director of Photography’s work will have been done in terms of cutaways, scene establishments, mood moments and more. She is master of the nuance, the thought process and the frailties of the human spirit as well as its strengths.

Apart from reviewing this book, I am reading it for Tape Aids for the Blind and, as with her Recessional for Grace which I also read, find that it transfers smoothly to the spoken word. Every pause, every nuance and every single line – even those with no more than four or five words - resonate with imagery.

Poland’s understanding of the environment seems so strong it is almost as if she has lived on such an island herself. Interestingly enough, she wasn’t influenced by The Snow Goose although it is a favourite book of hers.

However, she has always been fascinated by great machines. As she says: “Ships, trains, those with presence and gravitas. Lighthouses have that. I have also always been drawn to isolated places - islands in the deep southern seas which are the haunt of sea birds. I am not a tropical island girl - I love the wild and remote. I know I would love the Hebrides and Shetlands.”

A girl in her class at school was the daughter of the lighthouse keeper on Bird Island off Port Elizabeth and once gave a talk on her life there. “This experience haunted me,” explains Poland. “I researched lighthouses with great care before I wrote. I have explored one - a most magnificent place but aloof and grave and solemn.”

This compelling story focusing on an unusual subject will definitely make you want to read it over again to gain its full value.

The Keeper is published in paperback by Penguin Books. Recommended Price R235. ISBN: 9780143539032 It is also available in Afrikaans – Caroline Smart