The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

It’s been more than five years since I read my first Hazel Gaynor book. In summer 2016, I loved The Girl From the Savoy, and I’ve collected a few of her books since then and added the rest to my “to buy” list. One of her publications since then was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. I finally bought the audiobook version of it recently and decided now was a great time to revisit Hazel Gaynor’s work.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Audiobook NarratorImogen Church
GenreHistorical Fiction
SettingEngland; Ireland; Rhode Island, United States
Audiobook Length10.5 hours
Format I ReadAudiobook
Original Publication DateOctober 9, 2018

Official Summary


1838: Northumberland, England. Grace Darling enjoys her quiet island life at Longstone Lighthouse, at one with nature and the wild sea breezes. But her solitude is interrupted when she and her father rescue survivors of a shipwreck in a furious storm and Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, a heroine of her time. As her renown grows, so does her friendship with George Emmerson, an artist visiting the lighthouse. As George captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart, but as the accounts of her heroism escalate, Grace wonders if she has the courage to endure the relentless glare of fame.

1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson arrives in America in disgrace, sent from her home in Ireland to stay with Harriet Flaherty, a reclusive relative and keeper at Rose Island lighthouse. When a discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s past, she sets out to discover the connection between a Victorian heroine and her own family. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be forever linked by their instinctive acts of bravery and love.

Inspired by true events, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a sweeping historical novel that explores how our past shapes our present, and what it truly means to be courageous.


Ever since it came out in autumn 2018, I knew I wanted to read The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. I’d enjoyed Hazel Gaynor’s novel The Girl From the Savoy, and in the years since I have collected a few of her other books (still on my TBR!). This fall I finally got The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter on audiobook, and I dove in right away, without even rereading the novel’s summary. All of this is to say I essentially went into the book blind.

And so I didn’t know until after I’d finished the novel – indeed, until I sat down to write this review – that The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is actually based on a real person. Wow! I had never heard of Grace Darling and her heroic efforts to save several shipwrecked people in 1838. Learning her story here was fascinating and moving.

Like so many historical fiction novels lately, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is divided into two timelines. In 1838, we follow Grace Darling, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper in Northumberland, England, and the aftermath of her saving people after their boat is capsized in a storm. One of those saved is Sarah Dawson (another real person!); her story is particularly tragic. Grace experiences some unexpected fame as a young heroine, but she also works through a potential romantic relationship with George Emmerson (who happens to be Sarah Dawson’s brother).

A full century later, in 1938, we follow some of their descendants and a different set of dramas. Matilda Emmerson is 19 and pregnant, and in the hope of preventing scandal, her parents decide to send her away from their home in Ireland to a distant relative in the United States. Matilda ends up in Rhode Island, living with a gruff woman who works as a lighthouse keeper.

Throughout the novel, I was surprised at how much tragedy and heartache there is. This is not a romance or a lighthearted read. There is plenty of suffering, including death and grief and love that cannot be. While listening to the book, I was surprised that the author was so mean to her characters, but alas, much of this was based on true events. Real life can certainly be painful.

However, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter also offers more positive themes, too. One thing I loved is how progressive and feminist Grace Darling is. For the 1830s, she seems a bit ahead of her time. She’s not interested in getting married and having children; she’d much prefer to continue working as a lighthouse keeper, hopefully taking over after her father retires. Even in the face a potential romance, will Grace choose her career and helping others over a life as a married woman?

This novel is largely about family and connection. Both timelines follow people within the same families and feeling devoted to – or disconnected from – their families. More than the 1830s plot, the 1930s timeline looks at motherhood, your place in your family, and whether blood is thicker than water. The story following Matilda presents a dash of mystery and some surprises and asks whether life offers second chances.

Despite the heavy themes and tragic events within The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, I continually felt that it was a gentle and quiet novel. Something about it is soothing and warm, like a hug from a loved one, even in the face of so much sadness. The novel is also beautiful written, with immersive prose and passages that are affecting. The audiobook narrator, Imogen Church, does a wonderful job here in conveying the book’s themes.

Final Thoughts

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a lovely and delicate book despite its tumultuous themes and its fictionalization of a brave hero. It affirms my liking of Hazel Gaynor’s books, and it makes me more eager to read the others I have on my shelf – including The Cottingly Secret and Three Words for Goodbye – as well as the ones I’ve yet to collect. Stay tuned for my reviews of her other books soon!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

About the Author

Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, Globe and Mail, Irish Times and national bestselling author. Her debut novel, The Girl Who Came Home, won the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year award, The Girl from The Savoy was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year, and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was shortlisted for the 2019 Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown Award.

Hazel’s most recent novel, When We Were Young & Brave/The Bird in the Bamboo Cage was a national bestseller in the USA, and an Irish Times bestseller, and was shortlisted for the 2020 Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Novel of the Year.

Hazel’s co-written novels with Heather Webb have all been published to critical acclaim. Last Christmas in Paris won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award, and Meet Me in Monaco was shortlisted for the 2020 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel award. Their latest novel, Three Words for Goodbye, will be published in July 2021.

Hazel was selected as a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick and by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. Her work has been translated into seventeen languages and is published in twenty-three countries to date. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

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