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In this reminiscence of the pleasures of solitude, the wonders of the sea, and the odd course life takes, Peter Hill writes, "In 1973 I worked as a lighthouse keeper on three islands off the west coast of Scotland. Before taking the job I didn't really think through what a lighthouse keeper actually did. I was attracted by the romantic notion of sitting on a rock, writing haikus and dashing off the occasional watercolour. The light itself didn't seem important: it might have been some weird coastal decoration, like candles on a Christmas tree, intended to bring cheer to those living in the more remote parts of the country."
Hill learned quickly, though, of the centuries-old mechanics of the lighthouse, of the life-and-death necessity of its luminescence to the seafarers, and of the great and unlikely friendships formed out of routine. With his head filled with Hendrix, Kerouac, and the war in Vietnam, Hill shared cups of tea and close quarters with salty lighthouse keepers of an entirely different generation. The stories they shared and idiosyncrasies they exhibited came to define a summer that Hill has memorialized with great wit and a disarmingly affectionate style.
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PETER HILL was born to an Australian mother and Scottish father but grew up in Glasgow. Following his brief stint as a lighthouse keeper he did a number of jobs but for the past twenty years he has focussed most of his energy into his art and working as an art critic. He has written for many publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, London Review of Books, Artpresse and Interview and in 1986 founded the arts magazine Alba. For the past ten years he has lived in Sydney.From Publishers Weekly:
In 1973, Glasgow-born Hill impulsively dropped out of art school to train as a lighthouse keeper at a series of remote outposts off Scotland's coast. He was, he recalls, the very image of the teenage baby boomer: longhaired, scruffy, dragging his rock 'n' roll tapes around everywhere. Yet he appears to have enjoyed himself immensely, spending weeks in close quarters with a handful of much older men, listening to their anecdotes and learning how to cook huge meals. The biggest problem with this loose, digressive account is that that's pretty much all they did other than keep the lights on. There are some amusing scenesâ€"one lighthouse crew's obsession with the televised Watergate hearings; a game of Scrabble in which only nautical terms are allowedâ€"but the pace is otherwise slow moving. While that sometimes makes for remarkable character studies, the narrative is burdened by Hill's grandiose faith in the significance of his generational moment. As a result, the memoir reads more like an elegy for his lost youth than one for the lighthouse keepers who would soon be replaced by automated technology. Furthermore, American readers will struggle to make sense of the references to 1970s BBC programming, which serve as hooks to describe nearly everyone Hill meets (the book was published in the U.K. last year). At least it's easy to grasp the Scots dialect; the gruff men who speak it hold much of the tale's vitality. In contrast, Hill's more direct efforts to wax charmingly nostalgic sound too often merely pretentious, like the sort of pompous middle-aged prattle Hill would have fled from if he were still 19.
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