Title: The Sentinel
Author: Jacqueline Hodder
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Blue Wren Press
Published: 3rd October 2020
Synopsis: 1880, Australia.
Escaping from a disastrous relationship, Kathleen Devine flees to an isolated lighthouse off the Victorian coastline. Taking up the position of Head Teacher to the lighthouse keepers’ children, she is ensnared in the lives of those marooned on the lonely outpost and soon realises no-one can escape their past. When the fearsome Head Lightkeeper, Mr Johannsson forms an unlikely friendship with the daughter of one of the keepers, it threatens to destroy their fragile peace. Can Kathleen find the strength to survive?
Kathleen Divine has escaped the confines of Melbourne and a disastrous relationship to take up residence near an isolated lighthouse as the head teacher. Everyone is close in many ways, yet at the same time, they are isolated and distanced from each other as tensions rise and threaten to tear the tiny community apart. Kathleen tries to take Isabella under her wing, yet Isabella is drawn into a friendship with Head Lightkeeper, Mr Johannsson – and the peace begins to shake and quiver, threatening to destroy everyone.
Jacqueline approached me during the lockdowns and restrictions to read and review this – and I have finally managed to get there as things begin to slow down a little, and I am slowly getting on top of all the reading and reviewing I have been trying to do in this very strange year for everyone in so many ways. It is the kind of book that meanders a little, weaving the details of the lives of those living near the Sentinel lighthouse into the narrative, as seen through the eyes of Kathleen.
Each character has their own secrets, their own story – and much is hidden from the reader, so slowly peeling back the layers reveals some of who they are and reveals it as the story calls for it. The main crux of the story is Isabella, and her search for a place to belong. She’s not allowed to go to school and has to help at home. Yet Isabella longs for more and when she begins to befriend Mrs Dawson, and then Mr Johannsson, the story picks up and swirls with intrigue and worry from those who surround Isabella, whilst some concerns are dismissed.
The slow-moving nature of this story allowed for things to unfold as needed, though the action truly ramped up in the final chapters as tragedy struck the island, and everyone’s lives would be changed forever – and nobody would ever see things the same way again or be the same again. They were all irrevocably changed by the events of the story and the way each character reacted to what was happening and each other. It captures the essence of a very small pre-Federation community, and what isolation can do to people – and how they react in their own ways.
The Sentinel revolves around tensions that are exacerbated by isolation and presented with a dark and gothic feel – as though the island and lighthouse are always shrouded in some kind of darkness, or an impending storm – which acts as a catalyst for some of the events and foreshadows what is to potentially come. It is one that I did enjoy, and think it will definitely find its audience out there in the wider world, as it captures a small slice of what nineteenth century was like for one isolated community, and what happens when tragedy wreaks havoc on the people who are part of the tragedy. In a year when so many of us were isolated in some way, the feelings of isolation were strong – and you could sense and feel just how the characters were feeling, and how the isolation affected them. In some ways, it was different for us – we could still connect with loved ones in some way, but the feeling of never-ending loneliness is the same in any time period – no matter how one is able to connect. Jacqueline Hodder captured all these elements
A great book for lovers of historical fiction.