||Apr 1st 2012
Middle Watch is a time when a man alone on a lighthouse in those wee small hours feels he's the only person in the world. A man awake and alone in the darkness has time to think and sometimes his thoughts turn towards revenge and hate.
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Bridie O'Neill was taken in as a baby by 'Dad Joe', whom she adores as if he were her real father. Unfortunately, Joe is away at sea most of the time and Bridie has grown up under the thumb of his mean-spirited wife, Millie, and her two bullying sons. The only joy in her life comes from the beautiful coastline near their home and Joe's occasional visits.
When things come to a head between Bridie and Millie, Joe realises he needs to take Bridie - and himself - away from his poisonous wife. He starts a job as a lighthouse keeper at Longships Light. Bridie's life is transformed by this new life close to the wild Cornish seas. There she meets the dark, brooding Ryan, son of the Principal Keeper. The two young people fall deeply in love with one another.
But Joe’s family are not ready to let Bridie go. She is haunted by the idea that Millie will come after her, and Joe’s older son Jim is starting to look at Bridie with a most unbrotherly interest. Wanting to escape the emotional turmoil and prove herself, Bridie sets out on her own to find work in London – but her actions set forth a chain of events that will end in tragedy on a lonely lighthouse amongst the crashing waves of the sea…
I stood beside the heaped up mound of earth in the graveyard and watched the coffin carried over, lowered gently into the dark, empty hole in the ground. The vicar intoned his prayers for the dead, his voice mingling with the sudden angry wind that had leapt from nowhere, now raging through the ancient yews that surrounded the gravestones in the old churchyard. New graves with pristine white headstones surrounded me in this part of the cemetery. This wasn’t some old man about to be extinguished from the world in that dark hole of death. This wasn’t some ancestor with a lichen-covered gravestone and some exotic far-away date to intrigue the living. He was young; he would be forever young. It was all such a waste, so pointless and stupid. The angry wind echoed my angry heart.
But it's too late now. I didn't realise the dangers. Didn't understand how Middle Watch is a time when a man alone on a lighthouse in those wee small hours feels he’s the only person in the world. A man awake and alone in the darkness of the night has time to think, and sometimes those thoughts turn towards revenge and hate.
An engaging story
Frank, unpretentious, lucid, with the feel almost of a diary yet so carried forward by the fluid style that it reads at a pace. The early pages encapsulate so much of the back story without needing to linger or digress at the expense of the narrative so that I felt immediately involved and on board with the candid first person style.
The facts need no dressing as we witness the emotional distance between the narrator, Bridie, who has lost her real father to be adopted by the good "Dad Joe" as she affectionately calls her foster father, but who also passes into the hands of Joe's resentful and jealous wife, Millie, named with something far affection as "Mean" Millie. Millie is consumed with jealousy because Bridie's love for her adoptive 'Dad', the angst clear from Millie's nickname for the child in her care "Little Miss Nobody". Bridie's feeling of being unwanted is intensified when Mean Millie's son, Andy, not only bullies Bridie but seems almost to get his mother's approval in doing so.
We have to remember that this is not just domestic discord, for Bridie has early lost both her mother and her father while the world in which she might have found sanctuary is, with the exception of Dad Joe, a cauldron of jealousy, resentment and rejection - "Thank God, you're not mine... I'd be ashamed to claim you," Mean Millie reminds the hapless child. The effect on Bridie is simply - yet quite beautifully - expressed when we view her, alone with Dad Joe after he has returned from sea and they go down to the seashore together.
Of the incessant ebb and flow, Bridie finds the sea "Frightening, majestic, terrible, it never stopped, it was never still, yet looking over its vastness, I felt stillness in my soul. It was a paradox I would never understand."
Themes universal, and we feel the echo of the author's opening quote from Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality, but the treatment bears the stamp of a genuinely individual writer who carries conviction with her sheer sincerity of observation and absence of any false sentiment - the whole making a quiet impact.
And so the need for a truer sense of identity and bonding, first as a daughter to her surrogate Dad, Joe, and then to her lover, Ryan, who is so often distanced from her as he takes up "his lonely sojourn on a lighthouse far from humanity". Bridie's isolation is gradually built and is the more powerfully made when the lighthouse once again visits upon Bridie's life a deeper and more painful loss. Without ever quite knowing how the ending is going to come, with an emotional crescendo, it does.
A great romantic saga
This is not the first book by Loretta Proctor I have read so I began it with pleasureable anticipation and was not disappointed in fact I found this one the best yet - and that's saying something. The background for the book has been well researched and the reader experiences the solitary way of life of the men and families of the lighthouse keepers. Reading it, you can taste the salt from the sea-spray, hear the sea-birds call and feel at one with nature in all its raw beauty. Bridie O'Neill tell her own story and the reader becomes a part of it, feeling her emotional ups and downs, hopes and fears. This is a book a sincerely recommend to all lovers romantic sagas. I only picked up Middle Watch with the intention of taking a quick look but found myself unable to put it down. It is a lovely book, extremely well written.
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Reader Reviews for "Middle Watch"
|Reviewed by L Hippler
|A wonderful look into the lives of complex people
In Loretta Proctor’s Middle Watch you will truly be drawn into the life of young Bridie O’Neil. From her early childhood, where she’s routinely mistreated by a brutal stepmother, to her self-searching teen years, to her role as new wife and mother, Bridie’s inner courage and character never falter. Her personality dominates this story of beautifully drawn and very real, complex people.
Ms. Proctor gives us vibrant descriptions of the Cornish coast and towns throughout the book as well as a look into the little known culture and lifestyles of lighthouse keepers. And her descriptions of London in the late 1950s seem to actually put you there. Especially in the London chapters, the tension and sense of impending disaster are unrelenting. But you can’t stop rooting for this fascinating young woman. I won’t give away details of the story’s ending but I can guarantee that you’ll be thinking about it for days.