This may be my favorite book that I’ve read this year.
The story is told through the eyes of Miranda, a photographer recently accepted into a program that finances biologists on the Farrallon Islands, an uninhabited archipelago off the coast of California. Miranda joins 6 biologists on the islands, some who have been there for many months, or even years, studying local shark, bird, and seal populations. The seven of them share a small cabin, often assisting with each others’ work, spending their evenings together dining on their limited provisions, and studying their findings. What they don’t share, however, is anything about their pasts. That’s the unspoken rule on the islands, and Miranda doesn’t really know who she has been stuck with in this remote location.
The book is interspersed with educational explanations of the animal populations, which I found interesting, and, later, useful in helping to understand the human relationships among the seven scientists. Geni pulls no punches in demonstrating how at the core we really are all just animals, and our basest nature is really our true self.
A large portion of Miranda’s story is told in letters to her deceased mother. At times the book reads like a memoir. This book is a commingling of biological observation of sharks and seals with emotional introspection and speculation of the motives of the biologists. After a crime is committed and accidents befall some of the inhabitants, the passions of the biologists begin to overcome their objectivity. Different perspectives of these events come through, and the reader, like Miranda, is left wondering who is trustworthy and who has something to hide.
Geni has created a book with a claustrophobic atmosphere that blankets the entire story. The overall feeling of the Farrallon Islands is grey and bleak, but also exotic with the thrill of the newly discovered. The world of the islands is tempestuous and isolated. The animals are beautiful to observe, but as the story unfolds, the cruelty and callousness of nature is revealed that underlies it all.
The Lightkeepers is beautiful and raw. I couldn’t look away from the pages. It has the soulfulness of literary fiction, the wonder of natural observations, and the haunting qualities of a gothic mystery. I highly recommend this one. It’s one of my absolute favorites. Put on a warm cardigan and pull the sleeves over your hands. Grab a mug of hot tea and curl up with an afghan. You’ll need some warmth to overcome the hardened chill of this riveting story.