The stunning story of a ship without a destination
The routine on board the Texel, a lightship – essentially a floating lighthouse – is disturbed when the cook smuggles a live billy-goat on board to use in a stew. The animal’s arrival leads to tension among the crew and ultimately causes the shift to end in tragedy.
For four weeks on end, the crew of the Texel lead a monotonous, isolated existence. They keep watch, make meteorological observations and keep the light burning for approaching ships. Everyone on board longs for the end of their shift. But things get shaken up when Lammert, the ship’s cook, brings a goat on board. He plans to slaughter it halfway through the shift so that he can make gule kambing, an Indonesian dish from his childhood.
The young animal’s presence brings up buried fears and emotions in the crew. The youngest sailor grows attached to the goat, while the unhappy Gerrit Snoek sees the devil in its horns. When the ship is enveloped in a dense fog and the cook retreats to his cabin after his malaria flares up, things quickly take an ominous turn.
Deen writes in clear and timeless prose. The ship itself seems like a living being – the foghorn bellows ominously and the ship tosses around on the waves like a chained animal. In a style and setting that echoes Joseph Conrad, Deen captures the tragic resonance of this ship that can’t go anywhere, whose crew members are each trapped in their own past. He describes the contrast between these rough seamen and the young billy-goat with a tenderness that never lapses into sentimentality.
The Lightship is an affecting story that reads almost like a parable, while at the same time the subtle presence of Lammert’s trauma firmly places it in the context of Holland’s colonial past.