Friday, 25 October 2013
Jon Bear Book Review: The Lighthouse at the End of the World
The Lighthouse at the End of the World is a book with a plot line that follows the last week of Edgar Allan Poe's life (1809-1849), interweaving historical fiction with mystery, intrigue and insight into the dark, brilliant and twisted mind of Edgar Allan Poe. The author, Stephen Marlowe undertakes this considerable literary challenge with such a deep and appreciative understanding of Poe's works and of Poe's life, that the fantastical journey is every bit as believable as the truth. In fact, if perception is reality then it's not a stretch for the imagination to read Marlowe's work as historical fact.
The central figure, the enigmatic Mr. Edgar Allan Poe is ripe for such an intricately woven exploration of character. Poe was an accomplished and troubled man, bedeviled by drink, who went missing the last week of his life before being discovered in a state of extreme distress on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, wearing clothes that were not his own. The events of these final days conspire in the mysteriously undetermined death of Edgar Allan Poe.
Marlowe's Poe reflects on his difficult childhood after he was adopted by the Allan family following the departure of his natural father and the death of his mother. In spite of Poe's challenging relationship with his adoptive father he would eventually become one of the most revered dark romantic literary artists of all time.
Marlowe's book which extracts it's title in part from the title of an unfinished work by Poe relies heavily upon the influences of Poe's own writings. It's easy to make this connection in an historical fiction because of how many of Poe's works were influenced by his life where death and tragedies were prevalent. Poe who unceremoniously left John Allan's home and moved in with his Aunt and young cousin Virginia was struggling to make his name as a writer. His older brother Henry who was boarding with his Aunt at the time, soon passed away from ailments exasperated by his own demons with the bottle. Eventually Poe, at 27 years old would become married to his 13 year old cousin Virginia who was frail and ill throughout their marriage before her own untimely death at the age of 24 due to consumption (tuberculosis). In time Poe would receive fame through his writing thanks in large to the popularity of his arguably most widely recognized work "The Raven". Poe would try to parlay his fame into political position as an emissary in U.S. President John Tyler's administration but was foiled by his alcoholism.
The story of Poe's past is interspersed with the tale of his last few days. There is a complexity to following the delirium of Poe's mind at the time which fluctuates between reality and a fantastically imagined mystery. In the real scenario Poe, after getting soused at a bar gets mixed up with members of an illegal voting ring who essentially kidnap him and use him to vote under several different auspices to help elect their preferred political candidate. Poe's delirium in instigated from a beating he suffers at the hands of a group supporting the opposing candidate. Stephen Marlowe was a mystery writer for much of his life and he adeptly uses his skill set in detective writing as C. August Dupin, Poe's own fictional detective explores Poe's psyche through an imagined mystery (while in his delirium)surrounding the disappearance of his brother Henry in Paris, France. Poe, also in his delirium switches back and forth between his alter ego Phideas Peacock's adventures with the equally alluring and enigmatic Nolie Mae Tangerie (who's name loosely translates to Don't Touch Me).
In reading Marlowe's novel you almost feel like you're reading three different stories at times. There is an intricate and complex order that can be confusing but is always fascinating and brilliantly imagined. I wish that I had a better grasp of Poe's works as I have only read The Cask of Amanontillado over two decades ago in junior high school and been read the Raven, the Masque of the Red Death and a Tell Tale Heart nearly three decades ago now by my sister Heather. In having had such a limited exposure to Poe's fiction as I do, and being so far removed from that, I am sure that there is a lot I am missing in Marlowe's story. What I believe the Lighthouse at the End of the World has done most for me is to kindle an interest in reading more about Edgar Allen Poe and his writing.
If you love history, mystery, fiction or just a great book, The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Stephen Marlowe is an illuminating journey for the mind that holds a bit of something for readers who enjoy various literary genre.