The Light Between Oceans is the story of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, a young couple living on the remote island of Janus Rock, off the coast of Australia. Tom, who has recently returned physically unharmed from fighting in the Great War, has taken a job as lighthouse keeper on the island.
One day in 1926, a boat is washed up on the shore of Janus, with a baby girl and a dead man inside. Isabel, who has just suffered the latest in a series of miscarriages and stillbirths, sees this as a second chance and is determined to keep the baby. Tom is not so sure, but he loves his wife and she convinces him that it’s the right thing to do. Raising Lucy as their own child, it’s not long before Tom and Isabel can’t imagine life without her, but their decision to keep her leads to other important choices that have to be made and could have heartbreaking consequences for everybody involved. What if the baby’s real mother is still alive somewhere, wondering what has happened to her daughter? And how will Tom cope with his feelings of guilt over what they’ve done?
The Light Between Oceans is a very impressive debut novel from M.L. Stedman. I loved the island setting and I was given a real sense of the isolation of Tom and Isabel’s lives. The Sherbournes are completely alone on Janus Rock, apart from a few times a year when supplies are brought by boat from the mainland. It sounded like a beautiful place to live but also a very lonely, solitary existence not without its difficulties and hardships. There are a few occasions when they visit Partageuse, the closest mainland town, and this setting is also brought to life through characters such as Isabel’s parents, Bill and Violet Graysmark, and the businessman Septimus Potts. Reading this book made me aware of how few novels I have actually read that are set in Australia, which is something I would like to change.
The First World War, the long term effects on the men who fought in it and the experiences of the many people who lost their loved ones forms a small but very important part of this novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about Australia’s involvement in the war and so I really liked this aspect of the book. I also found it interesting to read about the role of a lighthouse keeper and what it involved. There are some quite detailed descriptions of the various parts of the job, but none of it was too difficult to understand.
But what I loved most about this book was the way the author allowed us to sympathise with all of the main characters; it wasn’t a case of one person being entirely in the right and another in the wrong. I could see why Isabel wanted so desperately to keep Lucy but I could also understand why Tom was struggling with his conscience and how the baby’s biological mother might have felt. The novel raises so many questions…If you know that you’ve done something wrong should you try to put it right even if doing so could cause even more heartbreak? Will trying to make amends actually make things better or worse? And most importantly, what will be best for Lucy herself? These questions are difficult to answer but they are what made this book such an interesting and thought-provoking read.