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The Lightkeepers

A Novel

List Price: $16.95

January 10, 2017 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 340 Pages | ISBN 9781619029026
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Winner of the 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction

In The Lightkeepers, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Her only companions are the scientists studying there, odd and quirky refugees from the mainland living in rustic conditions; they document the fish populations around the island, the bold trio of sharks called the Sisters that hunt the surrounding waters, and the overwhelming bird population who, at times, create the need to wear hard hats as protection from their attacks.

Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted by one of the inhabitants of the islands. A few days later, her assailant is found dead, perhaps the result of an accident. As the novel unfolds, Miranda gives witness to the natural wonders of this special place as she grapples with what has happened to her and deepens her connection (and her suspicions) to her companions, while falling under the thrall of the legends of the place nicknamed “the Islands of the Dead.” And when more violence occurs, each member of this strange community falls under suspicion.

The Lightkeepers upends the traditional structure of a mystery novel — an isolated environment, a limited group of characters who might not be trustworthy, a death that may or may not have been accidental, a balance of discovery and action — while also exploring wider themes of the natural world, the power of loss, and the nature of recovery. It is a luminous debut novel from a talented and provocative new writer.

About Abby Geni

ABBY GENI is a graduate of Oberlin University and the Iowa Writers Workshop as well as the recipient of an Iowa Fellowship. Her work won first place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and was listed in The Best American Stories 2010. She lives in Chicago.


“The success of every Hitchcock film ever was built on three things: suspense, surprise and shock. The same could be said of The Lightkeepers, Abby Geni’s unnervingly fun new novel… Murder mystery meets psychological thriller meets Darwinian ode in this compelling debut. Geni is a master of elegant plot twists, and her poignant payoff will leave you satisfied but also wanting a bit more time on the island.” —Purewow

“With her debut novel The Lightkeepers, a beautifully written literary thriller, Abby Geni cleverly ushers the Farallons into the literary fold… Geni’s book joins Island of the Blue Dolphins, an old childhood favorite of mine, in something I’ve deemed the “California Island” literature canon… The corporeal, technicolor sentences in The Lightkeepers allow us to visit, to inhabit a wild gem of the Bay Area, without actually interfering — as humans are prone to do — with the island’s brutal grace.” —KQED Arts

“Abby Geni’s debut novel The Lightkeepers is as wild as the landscape it describes: a nature photographer embarks on a one-year residency in an isolated, dangerous archipelago of islands off the Californian coast, only to encounter violence and a set of companions she cannot trust. Mysterious, vivid, and original, The Lightkeepers will quickly ensnare readers in its cruelly beautiful world.” —Buzzfeed

“This remarkable debut novel is the story of Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands for a one-year residency, accompanied only by the strange scientists who study the fish and bird life there.” —Bustle (17 Best Books of January)

“With The Lightkeepers, Geni has crafted a novel filled with wide-open spaces and also a creeping claustrophobia. The setting takes on the role of a character, and the Farallons are masterfully brought to life on the page through Geni’s luminous prose… Riveting from beginning to end, The Lightkeepers is unsettling in all the best ways.” —BookPage

“Great new fiction.” —People Magazine, 1 of 12 Best New Books for January

“Taking a leap off the literary cliff is not for wimps. It’s a testament to Geni’s skills that she takes her readers with her… Like many literary classics and novels that are destined to be classics, The Lightkeepers raises questions about humanity that are anything but light. Unlike many classics, it’s an accessible page-turner whose surprises, both fictional and stylistic, unfold so satisfyingly that the novel is also a pleasure to read.” —Chicago Tribune

“Geni’s haunting debut takes place on an island just 30 miles from San Francisco, but it might as well be another planet — killer sharks circle the water, violent birds rip the skin off of seals and peck humans in the head, and the waters are so rough, there isn’t even a dock for boats. Miranda, a nature photographer, applies for short-term residence on the island, living in a cabin with a few quirky biologists. But things change when she suffers a violent attack — and then her attacker is mysteriously killed the next day. Geni’s writing about the natural world is marvelous and her atmospheric novel is not to be missed.” —Entertainment Weekly, 1 of 11 Books to Read for January

“Nature can be exquisitely beautiful and transcendent, but in Abby Geni’s dazzlingly unsettling first novel, it’s also as ruthless, untamed and menacingly violent as the people who inhabit it… Geni’s story world is an intoxicating blend of unimaginable beauty and devastating horror. Divided into seasons of sharks, whales, seals and birds, over the course of a year, Geni shows us a world that seems anything but natural… The language is as startlingly rich as the terrain, making you look at everything as if you had never seen it before… The nature she describes has no sense of right or wrong. And what’s more frightening, neither do her characters, and in this stunning debut, both pull you in and hold you like a riptide.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“The strange and desolate Farallon Islands serve as the backdrop for this evocative and enchanting debut novel… Geni writes with the clear, calm confidence of a master storyteller. This is a haunting and immersive adventure, set in an unforgettable, wild habitat of its own.” —Publishers Weekly Starred/Boxed Review

“…[A] first novel of gripping, talon-sharp intensity… his poignant epistolary habit in concert with her living life through the camera lens leads to discerning and affecting reflections on loss, aloneness, and the discrepancies between memory, image, and fact.As the plot turns violent and suspenseful, and the mesmerizingly vivid descriptions reach shivery crescendos of shocking revelations, Geni dramatically meshes the grand, menacing power of the ruthless wild with the mysteries and aberrations of the equally untamed human psyche.” —Booklist Starred Review

“The six biologists of the Farallon Islands, like the animals they observe, survive on instinct. Even as they analyze and obsess, they act upon each other with ferocity, with tenderness, with primal need. We are as captivated by, as trapped by, these islands as the characters — and no one in this hypnotic story, including the reader, stands on solid ground. The Lightkeepers is a stunner: intense, surefooted, masterful. This is a book to swallow whole.” —Rebecca Makkai, author of The Hundred-Year House

“What truly separates people from the wilderness of the Earth they inhabit? Geni […] continues to provocatively prod these boundaries in her debut novel… Miranda’s travelogue, at once emotional and dreamy and rendered in crisp, stunning prose, is so central to the book that readers may at times forget the underpinnings of the locked-room mystery… And yet, at other times, the expository velocity is so unrelenting that the prose could almost get lost in the momentum. But not entirely—Geni may be unmatched in her ability to describe nature in ways that feel both photographically accurate and emotionally resonant. Natural wildness, human unpredictability, and the subtle use of literary devices are woven here into a remarkable, vertiginous web.” —Kirkus Starred Review

“Part ghost story, part murder mystery, part meditation on the cruel impartiality of nature, The Lightkeepers holds the reader enthralled in the grasp of an achingly vulnerable, creepingly unreliable narrator. Evocative of Lily King’s Euphoria, this riveting debut novel is both an exotic escape from the familiar world and an unflinching exploration of the universality of human nature.” —Gina Frangello, author of A Life in Men

“What a strange, wonderful novel this is. At once a soaring paean to the natural world and a story filled with mystery and intrigue as deep and dark as the sea. The Lightkeepers is mesmerizing.” —Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

“I’m typically a little disappointed when I admire a short story collection greatly and the author’s subsequent effort’s jacket copy reads as though it will be of similar tone or theme. As a reader, a scorched earth policy is the best policy. I’m willing to (hopefully) eat a little crow with Geni’s debut novel, though, as The Last Animal was a favorite of 2013 and a collection I have recommended to anyone who’ll stand still.” —Wesley Minter, Third Place Books, Lithub’s Fall Bookseller’s Preview

“Miranda, living life behind her camera lens joins a handful of dedicated scientists on the bare & isolated Farralon Islands off the coast of San Francisco as a nature photographer. Life there is bleak and dangerous yet full of the raucous cycle of seabirds, whales, sharks and seals. The group lives in close proximity, develops a kind of necessary cohesion yet feels the pressures of this proximity acutely.  Veering between astute observation and some loss of reference points that inform memory this haunting novel brings the natural world into focus while often blurring the needs and responsibilities of the human heart. The Lightkeepers is a rich and daring novel all the way to its startling conclusion.” —Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield’s Books

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