The first thing to note about this strange little story is the complete lack of any real, honest to goodness lighthouses: there are the ‘lighthouse facts’ that the intensely boring father goes on about while on holiday, and while in the process of convincing his wife that she has made a dreadful mistake in marrying this man; and there is the perfume bottle shaped like a lighthouse that Futh, the main character, and son of the boring father, carries everywhere with him.
Futh, his wife Angela has decided, is leaving the marital home. He is going on a week’s walking holiday following the Rhine, with the idea that when he returns, she will have packed all of his belongings into boxes and moved them into his new flat for him. She has been driven to this by Futh’s inertia, they finished being a couple months ago, he just never got round to moving out.
Futh is a strangely ineffectual man, he is in one sense vastly over-prepared for this walking holiday, having all sorts of things in his haversack, but they are either broken, or he doesn’t know how to use them or they are utterly pointless given where he is and what he is doing. He repeatedly arrives too late at his next accommodation for the evening meal and repeatedly sleeps through breakfast. And he gets lost.
On his first night he stays in small hotel run by a strange couple: the husband a virtually silent malevolent presence, always carrying the threat of violence to his wife. And others. She acts as the front of house and chamber maid, who also offers other services in a very desultory manner, seemingly as some form of revenge against her husband. The ongoing story of this husband and wife, Ester and Bernard, is woven behind the story of Futh’s walk and it is to their hospitality that he returns on his final night.
The other function of Futh’s walk is to allow him to recall the walking holiday in the same area he took aged 12, with his father, when his parents’ marriage was breaking down and thereby to reminisce on his childhood and his parents disfunctionality and how ill-matched they were.
It is a dark, quietly perverse little tale.