The Light Between Oceans is a post WW1 novel, featuring Tom Sherbourne, a recently returned war hero who takes up a position as lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. He marries Isabel and they live in an ideal life on the island. They long for a family but miscarriages and a still-born birth hinder any hope of a child to join them. A crying baby in a boat fond beside its dead fathe just off-shore, is a welcome sight. Believing God has shown them mercy at last, Isabel persuades Tom to pass the child off as their own. This action alone will bring nothing but sadness and regret in their life to follow.
I had not seen the film and had not heard anything about this book so read it with no preconceptions. However, I have to say that when I started reading it I thought to myself what a dreadfully depressing choice I’d made. I felt that no good would come out of the lie Tom and Izzy created and that all would end in doom and gloom. But, like Tom and Izzy, as time went by I was lulled into a false sense of security and began to start believing that maybe things would turn out ok. Until, of course, his real mother was identified. I never really worried about Izzy as she was so fulfilled in her blinkered belief that Lucy was a gift from God meant to make up for the Hell she had been put through with her miscarriages.
But I did worry for Tom, a truly upright, good and honourable man who had suffered the atrocities of war, killed men and witnessed the cruel deaths of many of his fellow soldiers and friends and somehow had come through it all physically unscathed but mentally wounded. Nevertheless, his principles remained unspoilt as witnessed when he rescued the lady on the boat and asked her to consider not taking any action against the soldier concerned as he had been through a lot already and “right and wrong don’t look too different any more to some”. That fault he never fell foul of. His conscience always tore the guts out of him for living the lie of not completing his log correctly and recording the discovery of the boat with its dead body and crying young baby girl. The huge love and need of his wife won him over in his silence but ate him up .
To try to come to terms with his atrocious experience of war, Tom ended up back in Australia after his demob working in remote areas in isolated lighthouses and only let his guard down when he fell in love with Isabel after hearing her laugh, “it seemed years since Tom had heard a laugh that wasn’t tinged with a roughness, a bitterness”. She came from a loving, stable family whereas, at the age of 8 because of an innocent remark on his part, Tom’s Mother was banished from the family home never to return and that was the end of love in his life until he dared to fall in love with Isabel.
His love for Lucy was so precious. He and Izzy were true parents to the child who should not have been theirs, stealing her love from her real Mother and depriving her of her child. And poignantly where Lucy was concerned “the more she had access to words, the greater her ability to excavate the world around her carving out the story of who she was”.
There were some very poignant remarks throughout the book and I did enjoy reading it, even through the trauma of the story and the wreckage of family life. None more true than “History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent”. Some of the word smithing was so cleverly penned, eg the contrast of the prison where Tom was incarcerated. The silence of the surroundings inside compared to the ” honey-eaters and willy wagtails chirruping outside”
For me, the essence of the book was the life and love of Tom who made one mistake because of his undying love for his wife through thick and thin. He was the guiding light keeping everyone safe and warning them against dangerous, rocky situations. He made that one mistake that impacted on the lives of many people. His wife deserted him in revenge for revealing their secret but he still had a heart big enough to forgive all. Just the same as Lucy’s father, Frank. who “I chose to (forgive) I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget. ………You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. … No, we always have a choice”. He and Tom would have been great friends I believe. I would give this book a score of 3.5.