Sunday, July 29, 2012
Author: M. L. Stedman
Genre: Fiction, historical, 1920's Australia
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: July 31, 2012
The Light Between Oceans is a sweet but pensive story about human emotion and how it affects everything in our lives from our reactions to our decisions. Tom Sherbourne has just returned to 1920's Australia from the war where he has seen atrocities and taken part in harrowing acts he can't seem to forget. He takes up a job as the lighthouse keeper on a remote island, Janus, where he spends his days solitarily making sure the light does its work every night. To his surprise, he meets and falls in love on the mainland with a free spirited girl, Isabel (who early in the book reminds me of a grown up Anne of Green Gables with her positive attitude and penchant for naming the all the beautiful areas around them). Tom and Isabel marry and go off to spend their first three year stint together on Janus, keeping the lighthouse. Their happiness is challenged, however, over the years as Isabel suffers two miscarriages and then a still birth. So it seems to be a miracle when one day a boat washes up on shore. In the boat is a deceased man and a very alive newborn baby. Isabel falls in love with the baby right away and begs Tom to omit this occurrence in the daily lighthouse logs (which he has taken great pride in keeping as accurate as possible) so that they can keep the baby and raise her as their own. After all, if they report it, she'd likely end up in an orphanage and then who knows where. Tom isn't sure about this, but out of his great love for Isabel, he consents.
Tom and Isabel raise this baby, Lucy, as their own and since they live just the three of them on an isolated island, no one is the wiser. But as such things go, their facade starts to fall apart through their various trips back to the mainland, especially when they realize the mother did not drown in the ocean as they had assumed. In fact, the mother, who is alive, has never given up hope that her child will be found and returned to her. What happens after this involves moral anxiety and stress, as you can imagine, and that which doesn't leave just a small mark on Tom and Isabel's marriage. Tom, meanwhile, battles in his mind between wanting to do the right thing to make up for the horrible things he did in the war, but he can't decide what this right thing entails. He loves his wife and his daughter yet feels continuous guilt at not following his own moral code. Isabel, on the other hand, is a strong willed mother who, regardless of how she came to be a mother, will protect her child at all costs.
This is a story that mothers and non-mothers hoping-to-be will both relate to. (Fathers too!) I can tell you I've wished that a baby would just fall into my arms, since it isn't happening any other way. So for my part, I was able to imagine myself in Isabel's shoes, raising a "shipwrecked" baby as my own. In fact, I actually felt surprisingly little empathy for the biological mother in this book! (eek!) But I'm sure while mothers might read this and feel for the mother who has spent years wondering what happened to her child, they'll also find themselves drawn to Isabel and her love for the child. There was a definite "King Solomon" morality thing going on throughout this book. It's not an easy answer for anyone but that and these characters make The Light Between Oceans a beguiling read!