The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman


What would you do if you found a child on your doorstep? What if the dearest and most desperate hope in your heart was to have a child of your own…and no one would know if you claimed this child as yours?

As the book begins, Tom Sherbourne has just returned home to Australia after four years on the Western Front. The tranquility, isolation and routines of a lighthouse keeper appeal strongly to him after the tumult (to understate things considerably) of the trenches of World War I. At first he serves largely as temporary replacement for the regular lighthouse keepers who need time away, but he learns the trade and works his way up to the point of recieving a permanent position himself, that of lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, off the southern coast of Western Australia. The supplies boat comes only once every three months, with food and mail; there is no other way to communicate with the mainland…or right up Tom’s alley.

There’s a complication: while waiting to finalize arrangements for his transfer to the lighthouse, he meets and comes to like a girl who’s lived in Partageuse all her life—Isabel Graysmark. She’s only sixteen, he’s (literally) been through the wars, so he suggests she wait and think about it. The life of a lighthouse keeper may suit him, but he cannot imagine that a vivacious teenager would so similarly love it that she’d give up all society but his. After a few cycles of the mailboat, she returns to the island with him as his bride.

She too comes to love the wild windswept surroundings of Janus Island, but…you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you? Yes, alas: Isabel cannot bring a child to term. She’s miscarried several times, the most recent pregnancy lasting until seven months and ending just a few days before the pivotal event of the book: a dinghy washes ashore in the pre-dawn hours, with a dead man and a living baby, just a few weeks older than that most recent loss would have been.

Tom, the ever-dutiful, wants to log the event and return the baby to the mainland, but Isabel has already bonded with the infant. They persuade themselves that no one will know that the child is not theirs, presuming that she has died with the man in the boat, lost at sea. The three spend several blissful years on the island; the child they’ve named Lucy grows healthy, loving and strong, alone with her parents and Janus Island.

It is not until they come to shore for a prolonged break that Tom and Isabel discover that the child’s mother survived, and has been mourning the presumed loss of her child ever since, wandering the community driven to near-madness by her loss. Horrified at what they’ve done but unwilling still to relinquish the child they’ve come to love as their own, Tom and Isabel flee back to the lighthouse.

In the end, Tom is unable to bear the thought of the heartbroken Harriet; he has written notes to her over the intervening months to notify her that her child is alive, and in the end, he turns himself, and “Lucy” in on the mainland. He is arrested, and Lucy returned to her birth mother, now a stranger, and Isabel is left alone while her husband works through the trial process and her daughter is distraught at being removed from her mummy to a family of strangers.

This is straight-up chicklit, and a reasonably readable example of same. I, like some of the readers, really really really disliked Isabel for refusing to relinquish Lucy, though I can understand why she did it; did she really think she was going to get away with it? What happened when the child grew up a bit more and started resembling her birth parents? Ultimately, it’s good beach reading, with a moderately plausible plot, but with only a little more characterization than others in the category.

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