TITLE: The Light Between Oceans
AUTHOR: M.L. Stedman
YEAR PUBLISHED: 2012
FORMAT REVIEWED: Hardcover
NUMBER OF PAGES: 343
Move over, dingoes. There’s a new danger Australian babies – lighthouse keeping couples.
The premise – in the 1920’s, Tom, depressed and bitter over the WWI baggage he is carrying finds a new lease on life when he meets happy-go-lucky Isabel. Tom is a lighthouse keeper and moves his new wife to the small, secluded island where he tends to a giant beacon of light that prevents ships from going astray. It’s a lonely life, far removed from the comforts of civilization. Isabel wants to be a mother but begins to believe her dream will never come true after she suffers one miscarriage after another. Tom only wants to make her happy.
One day, a rowboat carrying a dead man and a live baby mysteriously washes up on shore.
Pop quiz, what do you think the couple does?
A) Contact the authorities. Surely the baby has living relatives somewhere that miss her.
B) Signal a boat to come to the dock to carry the baby back to civilization and to the nearest police station so the whole mess can be sorted out.
C) Locate the dead man’s family so he may have a proper Christian burial.
D) Toss the dead man’s carcass in a ditch. Take advantage of the fact that you’re the only two people on the island to raise the child as your own. Return to shore later and tell the world Isabel gave birth to the baby while on the island.
If you selected A-C, you’re good people. If you selected D, you’re probably Tom or Isabel.
All joking aside, author M.L. Stedman does a fantastic job at displaying the mental gymnastics that people put themselves through in order to convince themselves that they are doing something right when in fact, what they are doing is so clearly wrong. Isabel grasps onto an assumption that the baby’s mother must have died in some kind of high seas tragedy and the only right thing to do is to take the child in. Tom wants to report the baby to the authorities but wants so badly for his wife to be happy that he can’t bring himself to do it.
Of course, when they return to shore, they discover who the mother is, how the baby came to be washed up on shore, and all manner of gut wrenching sadness goes on display as they debate whether or not to tell the baby’s true mother what they’ve done. With more mental gymnastics to convince herself that what she wants and what is morally right are the same thing – she argues that the baby, now a young child, has grown attached to her and Tom, recognizes them as her parents, and it would upend her world to turn that around. Tom, on the other hand, can get over the fact that the baby’s mother, Hannah, has become a sad, depressed, shell of a woman, in a constant state of sadness over her lost husband and child, clinging to hope that one day her baby will somehow magically return.
Well, it would be too spoilery to reveal all of the twists and turns, but overall, the book is a real tearjerker and the author has a knack for leaving the reader wanting to know how this truly messed up situation will work its way out.