The Light Between Oceans
By M. L. Stedman
Random House Australia, 2012
Being the lighthouse keeper on Janus is a quiet, lonely existence, made brighter for Tom when he marries the effervescent Isabel. They are happy together, soon expecting their first child and Tom finds that the scars and memories he carries from his time at war are not as painful as before. But Isabel miscarries this baby, and the next, and a third is stillborn. Drowning in her grief, she sees it as a gift from God when a boat with a dead man and a live baby washes up on the beach of Janus. Since no one has been informed of the stillbirth, Isabel begs Tom to let her claim the baby instead of reporting the finding, and Tom reluctantly agrees.
Isabel is happy in her role as a mother and the baby grows in both their hearts, though Tom can never quite shake the feeling of guilt he carries when he thinks of the family that might have been looking for this little girl. On shore leave for the first time since finding her, they are confronted with the truth: the baby does have a mother, one who has never given up hope that her baby is alive. Now they are faced with decision to tell the truth or continue with the lie that formed their family. The choice they make has devastating and far-reaching consequences for themselves and all the people they care about.
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This one is a heart-jerker, especially if you have kids. The narrative delves into the unfortunate reality that at this time in history (1920’s), losing children was common place. Safely delivering a baby was just the first step, and many children were lost to illnesses and accidents. Losing three babies in the utter isolation of the lighthouse leaves Isabel in a weak state of mind and Tom basically sacrifices his peace of mind in order to give her the one thing he thinks will keep her both happy and sane. Even though he grows to love little Lucy as though she was his own, he is perpetually overshadowed by guilt and worry that there’s no way for this to turn out well. I won’t give away anything else, but just know that if happy endings are non-negotiable for you, then just walk right on past this book. The ending has some bittersweet notes to it, but the main theme of the story seems to be a tie between the strength of a mother’s love and actions begetting consequences.
Even though it was sad, I really enjoyed this book. I really didn’t know who to root for in the end! All the characters involved in this terrible circumstance reacted in ways that were at least somewhat understandable, so that even when the consequence of a choice was that somebody else got hurt I couldn’t even be angry. I would just sit back and shake my head and think, “Man, that’s hard. I don’t know what choice I would have made in that situation.” I will say that Isabel’s character wore on me a little in the last third of the book. I’ve never been in a situation like that, so I can’t really judge, but I was pretty disgusted by how self-centered she became.
The setting is 1920’s Australia, which is a time and place combo that I have very little knowledge about, which made it all the more interesting to me. The dialogue is intriguing because of the jargon and figures of speech that are unfamiliar to me as an American. That is a good lead-in to my little warning that there is some profanity in this book, including one use of the f-word. Overall it’s not terribly offensive, but if you are sensitive to that then you have been informed beforehand. One thing I will say about the cursing is that it was actually a little bit interesting because of the outdated, foreign nature of the words and phrases used. Strange, I know, but true – at least for me.
As a whole, I really liked The Light Between Oceans and had no idea what was going to happen next or how it would end. Can’t wait to watch the movie and see if it does justice to this poignant story.