The Light Between the Oceans

It’s the 1920s on a fictitious island in South-Western Australia, at the confluence of two oceans. A dinghy washes up on the shore with a dead man and infant child. Tom a WW 1 veteran and his young wife, Isabel, grapple with what to do.

Tom is meticulous, a rule-governed lighthouse keeper; Isabel has suffered two miscarriages and a still birth. She views the child as a “gift from God.” Against his better judgement, Tom agrees to raise it on their own.

This is the moral issue that drives M. L. Stedman’s, The Light Between the Oceans, and one that was uppermost in my mind as I read the novel. The issue comes into focus when we learn that the infant’s true mother lives in the nearest town to the island and the dead man was her husband.

Tom and Isabel battle back on forth, as the child, who they name Lucy becomes deeply attached to Isabel, while both Tom and Isabel, in turn, become equally attached to Lucy.

Isabel says, "How can you be so hard-hearted? All you care about is your rules and your ships and your bloody light.”

On leave from the island, they return to the small town of Partageuse for Lucy’s Baptism. While there, they discover that Lucy’s grieving mother, Hannah, lives in the town, having lost her husband and daughter Grace. At this point the conflict between Tom and Isabel escalates.

“For better or worse, Tom, we did what we did. What about her loving mother? Her living bloody mother! How can this be fair, Izz?” “Of course it’s not fair, Tom, not fair at all! We just have to take what life dishes up!”

Unbeknownst to Isabel, Tom sends a message to Hannah that her daughter is alive, eventually leading to his arrest and the traumatic return of Lucy to Hannah. As Tom’s trial is about to begin with the prospect of a long-term imprisonment or hanging, Isabel finally realizes she cannot betray Tom any longer and tells the truth to the police:

“…none of it’s true!” cried Isabel. “Frank Roennfeldt was dead when the boat washed up. It was my idea to keep Lucy. I stopped him reporting the boat. It’s my fault.”

Tom is sent to prison for six months and Isabel is given a suspended sentence. The novel ends twenty years after Grace is returned to Hannah. They have moved to a small town 400 miles away, Isabel dies after a long battle with cancer and Lucy-Grace visits Tom to express her condolences. She has forgiven the couple and hopes to come back to visit Tom again.

A beautiful novel in the old tradition, well written, a pleasure to read with a moral quandary whose resolution captured my interest.


Linda said...

Good review - your comments are what I look for when deciding whether to read a book. Who was it that said "so many books, too little time"? What to read becomes becomes a weightier decision as I get older. Beautiful, well-written in the old tradition, and a moral quandary with a compelling resolution elevates a book to the top of my list.

Richard Katzev said...

Thanks Linda, more later as limited email service. Richard

Richard Katzev said...

Frank Zappa, of all people, is said to be the source of So many books, so little time." Thanks again for you comment, Linda. Yesterday there was a power outage most of the day in the neighborhood I live in. No TV, no Internet, although we still have electricity. It was a strange day, a reminder of how much we or, at least, I depend on the Internet.

Linda said...

Frank Zappa, huh - would never have guessed that.

I know what you mean when the internet is down. I can live without TV for a while, but when I lose the internet, I panic. I feel cut off from civilization - like being thrown into solitary. Makes me uneasy to be so dependent on technology, but there it is.

Glad you are back online.

Richard Katzev said...

It's not unlike our dependence on water, especially hot water and when the electricity goes off for an extended period that also causes havoc around here. We take for granted so many things. It would be good to make a list of them and acknowledge how lucky we are to live as we do. Or spend a few days in the forest trying to see what it's like when we don't have them.