Book Review: Lamplighter, by Kerry Donovan-Brown

Available from bookstores from today – launched tonight at The Southern Cross.

Donovan-Brown pens a fine and eloquent prose, rich witcv_lamplighterh detail and depth. He has created a tiny South Island settlement, Porbeagle, a village lost in the transition of time: where computer games and modern technology have been overshadowed by dark fables and folklore. Where the last Lamplighter is about to retire, and his apprentice, Candle, will never claim the position because technology will replace the traditional and dark secrets will come to light.

The cover is beautiful, as moody and subtle as the text – dreamy watercolors, monochromatic shades of sepia depicting the old man and his apprentice – distracted – on the edge of the swamp. It summarises the tale well, for the writing has a sort of murky other-worldness to it. It could be historic, it could be present. It could even have shades of future dystopia.

Candle, a teenage boy, is our protagonist. It is not his real name, but more a “title” from his apprenticeship. He lives in a small town, where his homosexuality has cast shadows on his relationships amongst his fellow villagers. His best friend (and lover), Rib, is himself a former apprentice-lamplighter (and now an aquarium guide) with a love of spooky tales. Tales like that of Wet Pete, the drowned man returned from the dead, and the mysterious doggod. But there is a truth amongst the shadows and dark secrets that may well involve the Lamplighter himself, Candle’s gruff old grandfather.

The writing is rich and vivid, the sort of tale that should be savoured slow. It flows at a smooth, deliberate pace that fully submerses the reader into the murky world. Evocative, elegant with echoes of poetry translated into prose.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Lamplighter
by Kerry Donovan-Brown
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739162

This book will be launched at The Southern Cross, 6pm, 25 February 2014

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