Today we’re taking a trip to Australia. Actually, we’re taking a trip to an island outside of Australia that is completely uninhabited except for a lighthouse keeper… And any immediate family members he might acquire. That’s right. I finally read The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman. (Thanks in no small part to BOTH of my real-life book clubs for choosing this as a summer read and to my Mother-in-Law for loaning me a copy… And to my Mother-in-Law’s friend who loaned the copy to my Mother-in-Law in the first place. Whew. That felt like an Oscar speech.)
Alright. So. It’s the 1920s. There’s this Australian dude named Tom Sherbourne. He fought in WWI and came back in one piece (at least physically.) He decided to work for the Australian lighthouse agency to make sure ships didn’t go crashing into things at night. It doesn’t hurt that he is still recovering from, you know, WAR, and he finds it beneficial for his psyche to be isolated. One day he meets Isabel while on shore leave. She lost both her brothers in the war and wants to get the heck out of her parents house and her small town… Plus she thinks Tom is cute. After a courtship that takes place mostly through letters (and even the letters are only delivered once every three months- this lighthouse island is way remote) the two get hitched and move out to their island. Where their only companions are each other. And some goats. Romantic, no?
Things are going along just peachy keen until Isabel starts having miscarriages. She is absolutely heartbroken that she’s been unable to carry a child to term. One night, a week or two after a third tragic loss, something strange happens. A boat washes up on the beach of Tom and Isabel’s island carrying a dead man… And a baby. Isabel sees it as a miracle and that God has delivered her a child. Tom wants to alert the authorities, but after watching his wife become immediately attached to the child, he caves. He’s been through psychological turmoil and he just can’t bear to see his wife suffer that way. They rationalize to themselves that the child’s mother likely drowned before the boat washed up and that they’re doing a good deed by keeping the baby… And passing it off as their own. Because, you know. That ALWAYS works out just fine. (Old Testament, anyone?)
I liked this book… But I did not LOVE this book. Unfortunately, it came to me at a time in my reading when I’d just finished several INCREDIBLE books that knocked my doggone socks off. For me, it dulls in comparison to some of those titles (Me Before You, Tell The Wolves I’m Home…) I also think I may have been at a disadvantage reading this because I don’t have kids. The whole maternal bond and the loss of children thing… I mean, I get it in theory, but I think it’s one of those things you can’t really FEEL until you know what it’s like to have a kid. The sort of insane lengths someone would go to in the depths of grief. The unbelievable pain of having your child vanish without a trace. I know this book has gobsmacked a lot of readers, and I don’t want to take anything away from it, because it’s very nicely done. It just didn’t sing to me the way some others have.
That said, this book got me to thinking of other titles with similar themes, what with the baby theft and family secrets and all. If haven’t read The Light Between Oceans but you loved The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (Australia, baby swapping, heartbreak), Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald (baby swapping and heartbreak in Canada- an all time fave of mine), or Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve (forced adoption and scandalous affairs at the turn of the 20th century), give it a shot. And of course, if you loved any of those titles and haven’t read The Light Between Oceans, it’s probably something you’d enjoy.
Soooo my Bookworms. I must know. Do you think you’d enjoy living on an isolated island like Tom and Isabel? Are you more of a social butterfly? Do you simply like the idea that you can escape your spouse if they happen to be driving you bananas one day? Isolated island living: paradise or claustrophobic? Tell me about it!