Book Review: “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman

Day 12  “L” The Light Between Oceans

Warning: Quasi-Spoilers!

I am a sucker for historical fiction. When the piece is well written, I absolutely love being transported back to an earlier place and time to savor a world entirely unlike my own. I feel that M. L. Stedman not only accurately and vividly captured this, but also beautifully depicted issues of morality and loss and presented these topics in such a way that makes you ponder these universal topics and think about how they would apply to your own life.

To summarize… Tom Sherbourne has returned from WWI, broken and in need of solitude. After a few years of training, Tom accepted a job as the keeper of the lighthouse on Janus Rock, a small and remote island off the coast of Western Australia. Prior to departing to his new post, he spent a week in the town of Partageuse, the closest town to Janus Rock. During this week-long stay, he met Isabel Graysmark and over the following months, they exchanged letters back and forth, eventually courting and getting married in 1926.

Isabel made the move to Janus Rock where she and Tom began their happy and content life; creating their own little paradise on this private island, secluded from the rest of the word. However, their honeymoon phase was short lived as Isabel suffered a number of miscarriages and still births, sinking into a deep depression.

One spring morning, a boat washed ashore Janus Island, carrying a dead man and a crying baby. Isabel instantly wanted to keep the baby girl and raise her as her own, while Tom was far more skeptical and wanted to notify the local authorities of their find. As fate would have it, Tom lost this battle to his wife and for the next few years, raised the girl (whom they named Lucy) as their own child, Isabel having suffered a tragic still birth shortly before the arrival of Lucy, making their lie plausible and easy to maintain.

And so, the issues of morality begin. As the years go by, everything is seemingly wonderful. Tom has grown to love his daughter, and Isabel appears to finally be happy. Until the fateful day when the little family visits the town of Partaguese and learn of Lucy’s true identity and the mystery surrounding her disappearance. Tom and Isabel must make the difficult decision between telling the truth or continuing to live the lie they have created; to give up their daughter and experience that suffocating loss, or keep her as their own and live with that crushing guilt, knowing that her biological mother is still searching for her child, is still mourning the loss of her husband and baby.

We read this book a few months ago for our book club and it raised a lot of “what would you do?” questions and made me think deeply about some of the issues that were presented in this book and how these issues would relate to me.

There were mixed answers to the question of “what would you do in this situation” with regards to notifying the authorities initially or not (or) later in life after the girl has grown, would you tell the truth and give her up, or continue with the lie? The majority of responses were that you either notify the authorities at the beginning and reunite the child with her biological mother, or say nothing and continue with the lie rather than change your mind after the child has grown up with an established life and family.

One of the questions that I brought up was how difficult would it be to accept a random child as your own? This was something that Tom and Isabel reacted very differently to. Isabel immediately identified herself as the baby’s mother and had no issues bonding with the child; whereas Tom struggled with bonding with the Lucy and calling her his own. These feelings of love developed over time, but he had to really work on establishing that connection and building that bond.

I found myself relating more with Tom in this respect. Much like Tom, I would have wanted to contact the authorities immediately upon finding the baby; the knowledge that there may be a family, a mother, frantically searching for her child would be more guilt that I could bear.

Additionally, I found that like Tom, I would struggle bonding with a baby, with a child who wasn’t my own. I think it may be different in situations such as adoption in which you want to be a parent and are looking for a child to fill that void; but to have a baby suddenly thrown into your life would certainly result in a great deal of hesitation and struggle for me. Particularly not knowing the history of the baby; if there is a family looking for her, and if there is a chance the child may be taken away at some point. Some of the other women in our book club sided with Isabel in that they would have had no issues connecting with the baby and raising it as their own, regardless the circumstances. It certainly made for some interesting and thought-provoking conversation!

I gave “The Light Between Oceans” 4 out of 5 stars. I felt that it was as intriguing as it was historically accurate. It tied in universal themes and issues that the reader can relate to and apply to their own lives with regards to self-reflection. One of my biggest peeves when reading is when the conflict is resolved and BAM, the book just ends. I was very happy to see that this was not the case. Years later, after Tom and Isabel have made their decision with regards to “to tell or not to tell,” the characters are reintroduced and we get to see how they have moved on from that decision, how they have dealt with the consequences of their choices, and we get the necessary amount of closure.

It wasn’t necessarily a page turner I couldn’t put down, but I was truly interested in learning what would happen to Isabel, Tom, and Lucy as the story progressed, and understanding the ultimate consequences to their actions, or lack of, over the course of their lives.



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