Salt Publishing, £8.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

The Lighthouse, By Alison Moore

A Man Booker finalist crosses the disputed border between 'literary' and 'genre' fiction

A debut novel from a high-achieving independent publisher, The Lighthouse has surprised some observers with its place on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Disquieting, deceptive, crafted with a sly and measured expertise, Alison Moore's story could certainly deliver a masterclass in slow-burn storytelling to those splashier literary celebs who take more pains over a pyrotechnic paragraph than a watertight plot. But it may also feed a long-standing Booker quarrel: the one that sets so-called "literary" against "genre" fiction.

For a key component in this novel's mood is our uncertainty about what kind of story we are reading. A lonely, diffident industrial chemist (he concocts artificial smells), our protagonist Futh tries to heal the wounds of separation from his wife with a hiking holiday in the Rhineland - his father's family is German. In flight from everyday unhappiness, he sets out on the ferry looking forward to "a week of good sausage and deep sleep".

On board he meets Carl, off to visit his controlling mother in Utrecht, who asks if Futh ever gets "a bad feeling about something that's going to happen". Futh has never quite escaped a broken childhood, rendered here in metallic, melancholy shards of flashback. His mother walked out, leaving little behind but lacerating memories and the lighthouse-shaped container for a violet-scented German perfume that Futh cherishes as memorial and talisman. His father, chilly and mocking, has stalled his son's progress to adulthood. There's something unfinished, half-baked, in Futh, an "awkwardness... around women in particular". His marriage happens almost by accident, the toll of miscarriages and his own misery drive his wife Angela away; even his profession – distilling memory-laden scents – signals a shackling to the past.

The first stop on his riverside walking tour, in a town named Hellhaus, introduces another ill-matched couple, the hotel's proprietors: blowsy Ester, who pursues joyless daytime sex with her guests, and saturnine, resentful Bernard. On each stage of Futh's circular ramble we learn more of his, and Ester's, histories of hurt, glimpsed via Moore's pointed, deadpan and elliptical prose. But we also sense that what began as a dual narrative of family breakdown and regret has strayed into the uncanny forest where fairy-tales flower in darkness. Moore's light touch leads us by degrees into these eerie woods where grim (or Grimm) tales may lurk. What will await Futh on his return to the Hellhaus hotel?

From a technical point-of-view, the peculiar achievement of The Lighthouse lies in the nervelessly skilful fusion of its emotions and its actions: the "literary" dimension of Futh's nostalgia and obsession, and the "genre" machine that, notch by notch, cranks up foreboding and suspense. Because of who he is, because of how he feels, the monster stalks him. The finale delivers a neat (perhaps overly neat) QED. A novel that opens with an epigraph by Muriel Spark may close by reminding you not just of Roald Dahl, but Stephen King.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick