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The Lightkeepers, by Abby Geni.

October 31, 2015
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The Lightkeepers, by Abby Geni.  Counterpoint (2016), 340 pages.

4 stars

An unusual novel about the year a woman nature photographer spent on an isolated, dangerous island with a handful of biologists and how she was changed by events there.

Miranda is an accomplished nature photographer, single and in her thirties. Her mother died suddenly when she was 14, and ever since she has dealt with the loss and processed her life by writing letters to her dead mother. The novel is structured as a series of these letters which she wrote during a year spent photographing wildlife on a tiny, inhospitable island off the California coast. She has also used her photography to distance herself from people, but her attitude changes as she faces the hardships and loss of her year on the island. Gradually she becomes a “lightkeeper” preserving life and more open to others.

The Farallon Islands, where the novel is set, is a rough archipelago group west of San Francisco, but it is such a hostile place that few have lived there permanently. Sometimes called the Islands of the Dead, the unstable ground, fierce wind, and overwhelming wildlife present constant risks. The six biologists who are living there when Miranda arrives are recording the annual visitation of sharks, whales, seals, and seabirds. Woven smoothly into the novel are fascinating details about each of these as Miranda encounters and photograph each.

Marine Station at Southeast Farallon Island

Readers of the novel also see Miranda’s interaction with the six biologists with whom she shares a tiny cabin. We see each of these primarily through her somewhat limited understanding rather than as fully developed characters. Each of them specializes in one type of wildlife. Galen, the older leader of the group, and Forest focus on whales, Mick on mammals, Andrew and Lucy on birds. Charlene is a young intern helping out wherever needed. In fact all the residents get swept up at times in the intense waves of wildlife. Life is always dangerous, and the book is full of tense between the human residents and the horde of birds and animals which come to the stark island. Only with the Epilogue of the book, written in Galen’s voice, do all he mysteries get resolved.

Abby Geni is an excellent writer, the graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and the author of several other books, which also seem to include the strong presence of animals. Her book is engrossing and full of tension and the simple drama of survival. I intend to read some more of her writing.

I recommend this book to a variety of readers; those who love nature and adventure as well as those who favorite deeply personal accounts. Enjoy.

I am grateful receiving a copy of this excellent book to read and review.

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