Friday, February 17, 2017
Review of "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman
Australian Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran, meets young Isabel in the town of Point Partaguese. Tom and Isabel soon marry and move to the isolated island of Janus Rock where Tom is the lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse keeper and his family live alone on Janus Island, having sporadic contact with the mainland via supply boats and occasional shore leaves.
A few years later, while Isabel is in deep mourning after suffering three miscarriages, a small boat lights upon the shore of Janus Island. It contains a dead adult male and a tiny baby. Tom wants to report the incident, as required, but Isabel - having immediately fallen in love with the baby - convinces him to keep mum. So Tom buries the man's body and the couple proceed to raise the baby, who they call Lucy, as their own child.
A couple of years later Tom, Isabel, and Lucy vist Point Partaguese. Isabel's parents, who lost two sons in WWI, are thrilled with their new grandchild and make a great fuss of her, and Isabel is very happy. During their visit to Point Partaguese, however, Tom and Isabel learn about the baby's parents. Hannah - a local resident - lost her husband Frank and infant Grace two years before when Frank, an Austrian persecuted by the locals, took Grace out on a boat and never returned. Hannah is almost insane from grief and is constantly searching for news about her missing family.
Tom, already uneasy about the subterfuge, tells Isabel that they must make a clean breast of everything. But Isabel, insisting that she's only concerned about Lucy's happiness and well-being, refuses. So the family returns to Janus Island, though there is now a small rift between Tom and his wife.
Events take their course and the lie is eventually exposed with difficult consequences for all concerned.
Stedman does a wonderful job with descriptions - and Point Partaguese, Janus Island, the ocean, the sky, the crashing waves, thundering lightning storms, rolling boat rides, people's homes and yards, are all brought vividly to life. The characters are also well-rounded, realistic, and compelling.
The story made me uncomfortable as stealing someone's beloved child is an awful thing and I couldn't sympathize with Isabel's bogus rationalizations. The book is probably a good choice for book clubs, with many issues to dissect and discuss. For me the book was just okay: well written but too slow-moving, with a troubling story line.