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Monsters beyond the swampbrink, Craig Cliff

Kerry Donovan Brown
Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739162

Maria Susanna Cummins’s sentimental novel The Lamplighter (1854) was a bestseller in its time. It tells the story of a mistreated orphan, Gertrude, who’s rescued by Trueman Flint, a lamplighter. Flint instills good virtues in his ward, and Gerty grows into a good Christian woman.

Kerry Donovan Brown’s Lamplighter (note the absent indefinite article), whether consciously or not, turns Cummins’s novel on its head. Candle, the novel’s 18-year-old protagonist, is apprenticed to his lamplighting grandfather, Ignis Gullstrand. Rather than lead his charge into morality, Ignis is foul-mouthed, violent and alcoholic. Candle is quiet, gentle. He labours to disentangle paddle crabs from his father’s net and return them to the water uninjured; Ignis simply tears a crab from the net. “‘Bait,’ says the Lamplighter, and tosses the remains into the ocean.”

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