This week I read The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill. I was so excited because it sounded like a very intriguing mystery set in nineteenth century London. Unfortunately, I was SO disappointed with this entire book. Spoilers ahead.
It started off interestingly enough with the Prologue about our main character, Evelyn, and how she lived in an orphanage and got discharged to what turned out to be unsavory characters. Then, things went really off the rails. We met a whole mess of people in the first few chapters including McKnight the professor, Groves the Inspector put on the case for all the various murders happening in town and Caravan who is a graveyard watchmen and friends with McKnight. Maybe it’s because I just read It which was just an absolute pleasure to read, but O’Neill did an extremely mediocre job of setting up the worlds of all the various characters. I felt like I just did not care about anything being said and it was almost like he was trying to be “deep” for the sake of it but nothing he wrote warranted that.
So much of the dialogue was also really weird. I’ve tried writing and will say that writing dialogue is tricky, but there were certain passages where I was like, even for nineteenth century England this is really strange and annoying. Conversations would last so long for no reason other than to fill pages it seemed. There was just so much extraneous dialogue that did not move the story forward or tell us anything about the character and I just did not understand why any of it was happening. The book could have been 20% shorter without it.
Then we start blundering through trying to figure out Evelyn’s deal throughout the book. It seemed like everyone kept saying the exact same thing about her, that she seemed doe like and then was subject to outbursts from time to time. So they all legit talked about that for probably 50 pages which did nothing but bore me to death and almost make me quit reading.
Finally toward the middle of the book things started to pick up and I thought this book was going to go somewhere. We re-meet the man who took Evelyn from the orphanage and that story line was somewhat interesting until he died. Then it seemed as though we learned more about Evelyn potentially being this psycho killer. There were passages that were definitely too long about it but my interest was peaked at this point.
Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it becomes a book about philosophy? And Professor McKnight basically goes on this long tangent to Caravan about how Evelyn is imagining their entire city and her imagination is so powerful that she created this whole city with inhabitants and none of them were real supposedly? That’s when I was like, what the fuck is happening. I honestly don’t even know if that was actually the case because in the epilogue all these characters continued existing except Caravan who might have died but it was unclear. He toiled about being a martyr but when the time came I had no idea what was happening. He wasn’t in the epilogue so I assumed he died and for some reason we learned nothing about that even though there were pages of him agonizing over the fact. I just didn’t feel like this whole philosophical angle was earned and there was no solution to it either way. We didn’t find out that it was in fact all in her imagination, which actually would have been a cool ending. So I just don’t understand why McKnight blabbered on about it for so long. I mean, I guess that could be the point because philosophy is infuriating with all it’s weird open ended questions and it just seems to be a bunch of people sitting in a room talking in circles and coming to no solutions and that’s what this book kind of was for me. So, I guess if you are someone who’s into that sort of thing this book is awesome, but that whole thing was not my cup of tea in the least. Now I feel like this book has rubbed off on me and I am just talking in circles in an endless void of tangents.
So after all this do we are don’t we exist nonsense we find out randomly that Evelyn is possessed by the devil and that’s why she was taken from this orphanage? So. Ok. Kind of random and weird but sure, sure. And I guess McKnight and Caravan have this weird encounter with the Devil who is described as being the most stereotypical type Devil you could imagine horns and all. It was a really random and weird conversation they have, and then the Devil just casually goes “Yeah, I’m gonna go inhabit another body now, but I’ll like stay close so I can keep an eye on Evelyn. Just want to make sure she’s ok.” I mean. What? What the fuck kind of Devil is this? And why is he talking so casually? And like for real, did Caravan die or something as a martyr? The whole exchange was so friggin bizarre.
Also. I don’t really understand why this book was called The Lamplighter. Or what the hell the lamplighter had to do with this whole thing. I guess. When Evelyn was little she like noticed a random lamplighter outside the orphanage so drew a bunch of pictures of him and then that’s how the Devil came to see her? In the form of a lamplighter? But then it wasn’t really mentioned again for awhile and then it’s as if O’Neill was like, “Oh shit, I still need to tie in the whole lamplighter thing” and so randomly brought it up here and there but it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense and just seemed pointless and weird.
And my last complaint was that there were so many random characters and random little story lines that just did not get completed. They would introduce someone who seemed like they were supposed to be important and then you just never found out what happened to them. Or something would happen to them but you wouldn’t really care. There were just no details and no follow through for so much of this. And maybe the most infuriating instance of this was in the epilogue when a random man smiled at her and Evelyn was wondering about him and then that was the end of that. Why did that happen. Was it supposed to be Caravan. I don’t understand why any of that existed.
I know I sound like a broken record about Caravan but it’s because he was the only character I remotely liked in this book. Everyone seemed extremely one dimensional and dull but I wanted to know more about him. He was someone who grew up poor and didn’t have all the means of a formal education but still tried to better himself and learn all he could. He also made a habit of giving what meager food he could give to the stray dogs on Sundays. So I had a soft spot for him. So when I got no real answers about his ending I was so upset!
Rating: 2/10-There was a brief moment where I was intrigued and that is why the rating is so high.
Would you recommend to a friend?-No, but maybe if you’re tripping on acid or something you might enjoy it.
Join me this week as I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I got a really cool edition at Bart’s Books in Ojai and am so excited to read it!