The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers

I first read this novel a few years ago, and while I enjoyed it then, I liked it even more this time around.

‘We are all just a breath away from memories.’

Mary Mason is an elderly woman in poor health, living alone in Hobart, Tasmania.  The delivery of a letter acts as a catalyst: she chooses to return to Bruny Island and to memories of her past.  Mary has a decision to make, about a secret she’s kept for decades.  And while she’s considering whether to destroy the letter or pass it on to the person it’s addressed to, she’d rather be on Bruny Island where she once lived as the lighthouse keeper’s wife.  She feels closer to Jack, her long-dead husband, there.

Mary’s three adult children Jan, Gary and Tom and her grand-daughter Jacinta are worried.  Leon Walker, a ranger on the island, has agreed to look in on Mary each day, but the rest of the time she’ll be alone.

The novel alternates between Mary and Tom. Mary has memories and secrets from the past to consider, while Tom has some issues of his own.  Tom’s marriage foundered while he overwintered in Antarctica some years earlier, and he’s yet to find his way back to a happy life.

I first read this novel a few years ago.  I liked the story then, but I liked it much more this time.  What did hold my attention on both reads were the beautiful descriptions of both Bruny Island and of Antarctica.   This time around, I was more caught up in Mary’s struggles and paid more attention to Tom’s story.  This was Ms Viggers’s second novel, I’ve read her third ‘The Grass Castle’ but not yet her first ‘The Stranding’.  It’s on my list.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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