Being from the North East of England, Grace Darling is something of a local heroine, but although I remember hearing her story at school, I couldn’t really have told you very much about her. Hazel Gaynor is an author I’ve been interested in reading for a while and I already have one of her previous books, The Cottingley Secret, on the TBR, but when I saw that her latest book, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, was about Grace Darling I thought it might be a better one for me to start with.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is divided between two different time periods, but unlike most dual timeline novels where one storyline is set in the past and the other in the present, both periods in this book are historical. One thread begins in 1838 and introduces us to Grace, a young woman whose father runs the lighthouse on Longstone Island, one of the Farne Islands just off the coast of Northumberland. The family live with him at the lighthouse and although it’s an isolated, unconventional lifestyle, Grace loves it and can’t imagine living anywhere else. One night, she helps her father with a rescue when a paddle steamer, the Forfarshire, gets into trouble during a storm and is wrecked on the rocks. News of Grace’s bravery quickly reaches the public and suddenly she finds herself the centre of attention, but all she wants is to continue living a quiet, simple life in her beloved lighthouse…how will she cope with her unexpected fame?
The other storyline is set in America in 1938 and follows Matilda, a young Irish woman who has been sent away from home in disgrace after becoming pregnant. Matilda is staying with an older relative, Harriet, who happens to be a lighthouse keeper in Newport, Rhode Island. At first she finds Harriet unwelcoming and difficult to talk to, but as she gets to know her better she starts to understand what has made Harriet the person she is.
I was interested in both storylines, but although it was the promise of learning more about Grace Darling that drew me to this book, I think I preferred reading about Matilda. To be honest, I didn’t feel that there was much difference between the narrative voices of Grace and Matilda, especially considering that they were living in different centuries, but of the two I felt closer to Matilda and more emotionally invested in her story. I wanted to understand the nature of her relationship with Harriet and I enjoyed watching that aspect of the story unfold, as well as discovering the connections between Matilda and Grace. Grace’s chapters deal mostly with the events of the sea rescue and the unwanted, unlooked for fame she experiences in the aftermath, but the author also imagines a romance for her, which feels believable and is also quite moving and poignant.
There was some added interest for me in that I was familiar with so many of the places which form the setting for Grace’s story, including North Sunderland, Seahouses, Alnwick and Bamburgh. The Matilda sections are more fictional, but do also incorporate some real places and events such as the New England Hurricane of 1938. Although there were one or two small things that stopped me from enjoying this book as much as I would have liked to – particularly the use of present tense, which I almost always find annoying – overall I thought this was a good, interesting read. I’m looking forward to reading more by Hazel Gaynor, starting with The Cottingley Secret.
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 7/20 of my 20 Books of Summer.