“Isabel’s belly quickened at the sight of the baby – her arms knew instinctively how to hold the child and calm her, soothe her. As she scooped warm water over the infant, she registered the freshness of her skin, taunt and soft and without a wrinkle.”
Author: M.L. Stedman Published: 2012 Pages: 461
The Light Between Oceans is a novel set in Australia, just after World War I. Solider Tom, returns home after fighting in the trenches and takes up a position as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Point Partageuse. Only having contact with the mainland every few months, Tom strikes up a conversation with Isabel. The two grow very fond of each other, and after marrying, Isabel joins Tom at his lighthouse. One day, they discover a small boat containing a dead man and a distressed baby, wrapped in a blanket. The couple initially agree to report the boat to the mainland, but after falling in love with the baby, and with the fresh memory of Isabel’s miscarriages on their mind, they decide to informally adopt her. Years later, when they go back to the mainland, they discover the baby’s mother is still alive and lives in hope of finding her daughter. Isabel and Tom are faced with a cruel and tough decision: do they keep the daughter they yearned for and have grown to love, or do they give her back and face the reality that they may never have children of their own?
I am not speaking from experience, and I am no expert, but I think one of the reasons I really enjoyed the book is because both Tom and Isabel really portrayed what it is like to endure the heartache and pain of miscarriage and the strain that has on a couple’s relationship. While this novel is somewhat romanticised, Stedman made sure the reader knew the unfaltering determination of Isabel and Tom to have a family, and the pain and suffering which came every time their dream was shattered.
I loved how addictive this novel became once I realised the tough decision they would have to make. While Tom is apprehensive about taking the child in, Isabel can’t let go of the idea that the baby was meant for them. She lets her emotion consume her: the guilt of what she had done by pretending the baby was her own, was impalpable compared to her grief over losing a child and not being able to get pregnant again. I don’t condone what she does, but I understand it, and I think that is why Stedman succeeds. She makes you understand that we are not defined by the bad choices we make, but we are defined by their justification. Sure, Isabel should have reported the baby in the first place, but put yourself in her shoes, it’s not hard to imagine that you would do the same thing.
I liked the ending, it was plausible and satisfying. I like that Stedman acknowledges that a ‘happy every after’ isn’t something everyone necessarily achieves. I also liked, that through the characters’ decisions, Stedman makes you question your own moral standing. She really helps put everything into perspective and understand that even good people sometimes make poor choices.
I also watched the movie after I read the book and I have to say, for once, it manages to do the novel justice. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander are perfect as Tom and Isabel and through their acting, their struggle became mine too. I was throughly engrossed throughout.
Read The Light Between Oceans if you enjoy novels about family and grief, and you will not be disappointed in the way Stedman triumphs by depicting the couple’s unwavering ambition to feel complete, and the hope, determination, and love they exude along the way.