Within the pages of this beautifully written page-turner, Tom Sherbourne has accepted a temporary position as lighthouse keeper on Australia's Janus Rock, an isolated island far out at sea. Tom is recovering from nightmarish years spent as a soldier on the Western Front. Although others have warned that living on Janus Rock is a terrible thing (causing the previous lighthouse keeper to suffer a nervous breakdown), Tom immediately loves the wildness of the rugged island as well as the orderliness of the lighthouse job. As Ralph and Bluey, workers on the store boat for the local light stations, leave, Tom knows he won't see another person for three months when they return with supplies. Yet he feels content. He explores the island, repairs the lighthouse and the cottage, and keeps the light burning.
"THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a rare melding of lyrical prose and a truly gripping read, the kind that leads one to stay up all night in order to finish the book. The story itself is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful, with a pitch-perfect conclusion."
When Ralph and Bluey reappear three months later, Tom is surprised to find a letter from Isabel Graysmark, a young woman he met at a gathering in town. The letter is quite charming, and includes a sketch of a whale with its jaws open and the plea to "Be sure not to get eaten by a whale…" Tom can't resist writing a reply. After six months, the Janus Rock position becomes permanent to Tom's delight. He is in town for two weeks to sign paperwork and enjoy a break, but what he enjoys most is Isabel's company. When Tom is back on Janus, the two continue their romance via every-three-months mail.
As they head inevitably toward marriage, Tom worries that Isabel might not love living on the wild and isolated island. He is tremendously relieved and happy when his new wife loves Janus Rock as much as he does. She learns all she can about the light, explores the island, tends a garden and chickens, and keeps house in a cozy haze that is simply enhanced when the couple learns they are expecting a baby.
However, Isabel suffers a miscarriage, which turns out to be just the first of several. These tragedies wear her down, eroding away her joy in life. She is sitting by her babies' graves one day when she believes she hears a baby cry. As she struggles to make sense of the sound, Tom calls to her, telling her there is a boat on the beach. In the boat, they find a dead man and a live baby. Of course, Isabel embraces this event as a miracle. It takes great effort for her to persuade Tom not to report the boat. Surely, she argues, the mother has drowned and the child needs a home as much as they need a baby.
The years roll by, and the three make a complete family. However, Tom's joy in little Lucy and in Isabel's contentment is terribly marred; he is plagued with regret that nibbles away at his very being. This remorse intensifies when he learns that the child's grieving biological mother is alive, leading him to take drastic action.
Author M.L. Stedman has a poet's grace with words, describing a change of season this way:
"The storms gradually follow winter to another corner of the earth, and summer comes, bearing a paler blue sky, a sharper gold sun."
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a rare melding of lyrical prose and a truly gripping read, the kind that leads one to stay up all night in order to finish the book. The story itself is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful, with a pitch-perfect conclusion. This debut surely will be high not only on my list of all-time favorites, but also on countless "Best Of" lists.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on August 2, 2012