“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things…we always have a choice. All of us,” (Stedman).
Returning home from the First World War, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island which he brings his young and bold wife Isabel to as well. Tom and Isabel enjoyed their time on the island, but the years weigh heavy on them after Isabel has two miscarriages and a stillbirth. Grieving, Isabel and Tom are shocked to hear a baby’s cries on the beach and find the infant bundled in a dingey with a dead man. Tom wants to notify the mainland of the body and the baby, sure there is a mother somewhere grieving for the infant but Isabel has already become attached to the baby girl and called her Lucy, convinced that if the father is dead than the mother must also be. The couple make a decision that comes with serious repercussions.
I read The Light Between Oceans for a book club and that’s exactly what this book is: a book club book. It isn’t bad, I understand the hype around it and overall enjoyed reading it, but that’s pretty much it. Stedman has an excellent voice and does a great job creating the atmosphere and setting for this book. The summary sort of gives the plot of the book away, but even then it’s an enjoyable book to read.
For most of the book we follow Tom and Isabel’s perspectives and Tom is much easier to read from than Isabel. He’s a very sympathetic character, suffering from survivor’s guilt after returning home from the war. He has no family waiting for him and is just content to go on living until he meets Isabel who adds some love and purpose into his life. It’s clear to see why Tom makes the decisions he does for Isabel, while some reviewers call him weak or a “doormat,” it came off to me more as people pleasing, more of a desperate need to make sure the person you love is happy and willing to sacrifice his comfort and what he knows is right for her. That doesn’t make Tom’s decisions anymore acceptable than Isabel’s, but it’s an explanation.
I had a very difficult time with Isabel. I found her unbelievable selfish and unlikable, but I do think it’s important to have more stories with unlikable protagonists, especially women. I did find I had to think about about Isabel’s behaviour, which is a sign of a good book I think, making the reader question and think. I think Isabel was a great foil is Tom, that while she didn’t suffer PTSD or anything from the war she did suffer grief and PTSD from her miscarriages and stillbirths which, again, didn’t excuse her actions or decisions but did offer a good explanation and way for discussion during book club.
The ending was wrapped up a little too perfectly in my opinion. I wouldn’t be as forgiving as some of the characters in this book were, but I’m not a very forgiving person in general so that’s probably just me.
The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully written book that checks off all the markers for a good book club book. With complicated protagonists and wonderful prose, this is one that deserves the hype it’s been given!
Publication: March 20 2012
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Pages: (Libby pages are strange)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤.5
Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.