The Lighthouse Sisters

Written by Gill Thompson
Review by Joanne Vickers

The Lighthouse Sisters is a well-crafted novel set on the Channel Island of Jersey between June 1940 and December 1946, from the time when the German invasion is imminent until after the native inhabitants have been freed to put their lives back together.

The plot focuses on Alice and Jenny Robinson and their family, as well as their close friends and neighbors. Except for an occasional brush of sentimentality, Thompson’s characterizations are deft, and the reader is easily drawn into the lives of these two different sisters. Alice is the practical one serving as a nurse at the island hospital, and Jenny, a brilliant mathematician, plans to go to Cambridge to advance her education. The occupation disrupts everyone’s lives.

Alice continues her nursing under the threatening German command but falls in love with a German doctor who shares her humanistic values; the consequences of this love are costly. In spite of the dangers, Jenny joins the resistance and uses her analytic and language skills to design codes and translate messages for foreign prisoners.

The German occupation is threatening on many levels, and Thompson does an excellent job of describing the hardships and brutality the inhabitants face every day, from extreme food shortages to the horror of slave labor imported from Spain and Russia to the persecution of Jews. The plot twists involving the Robinson sisters and their circle charge the novel with sustained, realistic tension. At the same time, Thompson paints the beauty of the island, the surrounding sea, and the lighthouse with a poignancy that illuminates the tragedy of this episode in English history.