Reformulating Futh, the ‘hero’ of the ‘The lighthouse’ by Alison Moore

Jonathon Strauss, 2013. Reformulating Futh, the ‘hero’ of the ‘The lighthouse’ by Alison Moore. Reformulation, Summer, p.26,27.


'The Lighthouse ' is a slim, rather disturbing fi rst novel by Alison Moore. It was something of a surprise when it made the Booker prize shortlist, because it was a fi rst novel and came from a small publishing house.

It tells the story of Futh, a man who invents perfume for a living. He goes on a walking holiday to Germany on his own, and describes a catalogue of minor, awkward encounters. The fi rst of these, Carl, asks Futh - "have you ever felt like something awful was about to happen?" This is exactly the feeling engendered by this book. Underneath the prosaic details of his holiday an impending feeling of claustrophobic doom is building.

We hear about Futh’s unhappy childhood, his abandoning mother and priapic father. There are many repetitions, like the sweeping light of a lighthouse. Futh carries a small silver lighthouse - a transitional object, his mothers scent bottle. His mother abandoned him in his moment of core pain, while his father is talking about a lighthouse. His walking holiday begins and ends at Hellhaus - a small hotel whose lonely proprietress has an identical small silver lighthouse to Futh.

Although these coincidences sound absurd when outlined like this, in the context of the dream like story they seem unremarkable.

The author seems to have made great efforts to draw Futh as a believable character psychologically; in some ways his childhood experiences seem to lead too smoothly to his present personality and problems.

I found this book surprisingly readable and deceptively challenging, but faintly depressing, Futh is so feeble, unassertive and grey - even his name has hardly any substance.

Draft reformulation letter to Futh

Dear Futh

This letter is a first attempt to summarise what we have talked about in your therapy so far. I will look at the problems you are experiencing now, the patterns we have identified as recurring throughout your life, and identify what we need to work on together in your therapy. This is a first draft of a reformulation letter, we can agree on the final letter together.

You came to therapy after being transferred from the Krankenhaus x where you had been admitted with severe physical injuries after an assault in a German hotel. You explained to me that this assault was the most extreme example of a repeated pattern in your life of misunderstanding others or breakdown in communication – especially unintentionally upsetting other people. You had accepted your passivity during the assault, but were shaken by your own violent response when your attacker tried to take your ‘lighthouse’ –an object of tremendous importance to you as a link to your mother.

You described to me the day your mother left when you were a young boy, the lighthouse out at sea and the lighthouse shaped scent holder, your fathers violence – your mothers bored response – abandoning and rejecting you with a shrug, leaving only the lighthouse and the smell of violets.

How hard it must have been for you as a child, abandoned by your mother, with your father seemingly not caring for you enough to protect you from witnessing his casual sex. Your confusion about sex and boundaries might have been compounded by your relationship with Kennys mother Gloria and your father making a pass at your wife.

Maybe it is not too surprising that, uncared for as a child, you never learned to care for yourself as an adult. So on your recent holiday you often missed meals, and despite every effort to take everything you could possibly need for a walking holiday you still ended up sunburnt and blistered.

 

How did you cope with the unbearable feelings of rejection and abandonment?

Firstly, we have talked about how you denied your feelings – blanking off emotion, and just like the burn on the carpet – putting a rug on the top. You were able to cut off from the evidence of your own eyes, for example in Kenny’s relationship with your wife. This is what you had to do to survive these painful childhood feelings, but as an adult this has made your whole existence feel dream- like, blank and unconnected with the real world.

The only sense left to you – smell – is exceptionally acute, and you have been able to use this gift, and the search for the memory of your mothers scent, to get a job and earn a living.

Secondly, you have described how you have avoided intimacy with others throughout your life, maybe protecting yourself from being abandoned again, but leaving you isolated and lonely.

Thirdly, we have discussed how you were frightened by the murderous rage you experienced, not when you were beaten up, but when your attacker tried to take the lighthouse. We felt this rage may be rooted in your being abandoned as a child; and your fear of this rage may have led to your lack of assertiveness in relationships, for example with Kenny and your father.

We can imagine that some of the coping strategies outlined above might affect our relationship during your therapy. You may fear the pain of being abandoned in the therapy, and protect yourself from this by cutting off from your feelings, or avoiding getting too close a relationship with me in the therapy.

CAT is a collaborative therapy – we are working together, and it may be hard for you to be assertive with me during the therapy.

If we can both be aware that these feelings might arise during your therapy, we can talk about them openly if they do occur. This may be a first step towards doing things differently in our relationship – and in other relationships outside therapy.

I look forward to working with you

Yours sincerely

Jonathon

Full Reference

Jonathon Strauss, 2013. Reformulating Futh, the ‘hero’ of the ‘The lighthouse’ by Alison Moore. Reformulation, Summer, p.26,27.

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