I started this book back in fall of 2015, but I didn’t get very far. I ended up loaning my copy out to someone, so that postponed my reading of it, too, so I ended up starting it over again in January and then proceeded to slowly work my way through it over the course of the entire month.
This book counts for the 1920-1939 slot of my When Are You Reading? Challenge.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Synopsis from Goodreads:After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.
The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.
This book is beautifully written. I could see Janus and the other locations described. I could feel the emotions Stedman was trying to evoke. My heart literally broke along with Tom and Isabel’s as their children were stillborn, miscarried, and died soon after birth. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the beauty of Stedman’s writing and nothing wrong with her ability to populate her novel with real, believable people.
My problem came from trying to sympathize with Tom and Isabel’s choices. I realize that I have never had children, never lost children, and never yearned so badly for children while being isolated out on a island tending to a lighthouse. But I like to think I would have chosen differently, would have alerted the mainland about the dead man and the baby so that whoever they left behind would know to mourn them, would be able to make their own choices about the baby’s future.
That one act so comes to define Tom and Isabel that I genuinely found myself struggling to sympathize with them after that decision was made. Yes, they loved Lucy. Yes, they treated her well, adored her, all the things parents should do and be for their children, but they knew that Lucy’s mother was alive, in mourning, thinking her child dead along with her husband, their bodies lost at sea. And that’s not right or fair.
And, unfortunately, that’s why it took so long for me to get through this book. Because I just couldn’t get past that decision and what it did to Lucy, Lucy’s mother, and to Tom and Isabel and their relationship with each other.
I enjoyed the writing, but the story felt too foreign. I struggled really hard with the rating, but I’m giving it 3 stars. Because there still was a lot to love about this book.