The Light Between Oceans
A Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. Scribner, 343 pp. $25.
Tom Sherbourne returned from the western front a different man. He had done things that he wasn’t proud of, things that he couldn’t erase from his mind.
When he comes home to Australia after the war, he takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, a half-day’s sail from the coast. Four times a year he’s brought food, enough to sustain him for the time. Every three years he’s allowed off the island and given some time to socialize in the nearby time.
Tom meets Isabel shortly before he leaves, and marries her soon after. Isabel wants a baby, but has all but given up after two miscarriages and a stillborn. Life on Janus Island is lonely, and she has no one to confide in other than her husband.
One morning, a dinghy floats to shore. The man controlling the small boat has died, but a small baby is still struggling to survive. Isabel believes this miracle to be a sign, but Tom is wary. Surely there’s a mother waiting for this baby.
The Sherbournes adopt the baby, a girl they call Lucy, into their family, until they go to shore and meet Hannah, the woman who believes her husband and daughter drowned at sea. She doesn’t know that her child is alive and well, and a part of someone else’s family.
A Light Between Oceans is M.L. Stedman’s first novel. While the story is a little over-written at times, the ease with which she creates the voices is beautiful. This book is already a bestseller lists, and it’s only been out for a week.
It’s a little unsettling, at times, to read a story in which there is no clear “good guy” or “bad guy.” In Stedman’s novel, each character has their moments of heroism and their moments of degradation. Each character is uniquely flawed, and their versatile tension drives the story forward.
Hannah obviously wants her child back in her care, but young Lucy has never known her biological mother.
Isabel has already lost so many children, and having one more within her grasp for four years before having to let her go just may be all she can take.
Tom can’t express his inner struggles to anyone. He barely understands them himself. What gets him from day to day is the exactness with which he keeps the logbook at the lighthouse. But on the day that he and Isabel found Lucy, she convinces him to wait a bit before recording the incident.
And on the day that his error is found out, his past once again comes back to haunt him.