Alison Moore has probably read a lot of Muriel Spark: in The Lighthouse we find the same unfussy prose, the unexplained meetings, strange characters – an indeed an epigram from Spark at the start of the book. Futh (this is the only name we ever have for him) is a middle-aged English man who, just separated from his wife after 15 years of relatively unhappy marriage, embarks to Germany for a week’s walking holiday on his own. It is a circular tour, beginning and ending at a weird hotel in a place called Hellhaus. A-level English students are going to find loads to write about. Futh keeps stick insects and works in a job making artificial smells – and walks carrying a metal lighthouse, an expensive perfume carrier which belonged to the mother who abandoned him and is just a little too big for comfort in his pocket. Scents are a key part of the book: oranges, cigarette smoke and camphor all recur. Two women who are important to Futh nurture Venus Fly Traps. Yes, Moore has boarded the Symbolism Express and is on a non-stop trip to Unpleasant Resolution. Rejection is ever-present: Futh’s mother left when he was a boy, his father is violent and mocking, his childhood friend Kenny soon didn’t want to know him, his wife Angela barely tolerates him – indeed, Futh knows, she is putting all his things into boxes while Futh is away. As he walks – usually arriving too late for dinner, misreading the map, losing his way or missing a bus or getting sunburnt – scenes from his past are replayed. It would be easy to say that Futh leads a life of quiet desperation. Except that Futh doesn’t really seem that desperate: he is confused by the sometimes hostile reactions he encounters and finds social interaction generally awkward. But then there are hints that Futh knew what was really happening with Angela. Everybody in this book – absolutely everybody – is damaged in some way. Be glad you never have to meet any of them. It’s a compelling narrative though. And sorry to bang on about The Sense Of An Ending – but really, this is how you write a short novel. And it’s only Moore’s first.