Tuesday 25 June 2013
#CBR5 Book 63. "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Steadman
Rating: 5 stars
Tom Sherbourne was a soldier in Europe during World War I. Deeply affected by his experiences, and the guilt he feels for the lives he took, he signs up for a job as a lighthouse keeper, taking postings at the most remote and lonely lighthouses around Australia. When a posting becomes available on Janus Rock, a place so remote and lonely, other lighthouse keepers have been driven mad, Tom agrees to go, first as a temporary replacement, and later as the official lighthouse keeper. The only human contact is the supply boat that comes every three months.
Tom falls in love with a young woman, Isabel, and despite his initial reservations, marries her and brings her to Janus Rock. To begin with, they are blissfully happy, alone with each other in a place nearly a day's journey from the coast. After several years, things are more strained. Isabel has miscarried twice, and two weeks after her third pregnancy ended in stillbirth, she first believes herself to be hallucinating, when she hears a baby's cries on the island. A small boat, with a dead man and a living baby, has washed up on shore. Tom, always meticulous in his record keeping, wants to report the findings to the authorities right away. Isabel begs him to wait, just a day, so she can spend some time with the baby. Against all his better judgement, Tom agrees, and he's then persuaded by his desperate grieving wife that they should just bury the dead man, and claim the baby as their own, naming her Lucy. No one knows that Isabel miscarried, they can just pass off the foundling child as their own.
Being on lighthouse duty means the couple only get holiday on shore every three years. Little Lucy is already two years old by the time the Sherbournes return to the mainland, and discover the truth about where their baby really came from. There is a grieving young woman in town, wondering about the fate of her husband and nearly newborn child, lost at sea so long ago. Her wealthy father has promised a fortune in reward for anyone who can give information. Can the Sherbournes continue their deception in the face of someone else's obvious grief?
I am not the first person to read and love this book. I'm not even the first Cannonballer. It's currently got over ten thousand 5 star reviews on Goodreads and over fifteen thousand 4 star reviews. It also won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction last year. So it seemed like a pretty obvious choice to pick as my first "Read a book everyone else has read" for my Book Bingo card. The fact that I can also use it for my Monthly Keyword challenge, my A to Z challenge AND my historical fiction challenge, was just a bonus. Frankly, with the amount of reading challenges I'm doing at the moment, it's rare that the books don't at least qualify for at least three different ones.
Enough about my crazy need to make my reading more competitive - what was so awesome about this book? Was it the heart-breaking subject matter? Was it the lyrical writing that was so beautiful you just want to stop and read it out loud? Was it the interesting and slightly unusual setting and time period? Was it the skillful way the story was unfolded, making it nearly impossible to put the book down because you just had to read one more page, one more chapter? Was it the wonderfully rendered and extremely complex protagonists, who you just wanted to hug and comfort, at the same time as you often wanted to shake them until their teeth rattled? Was it the great cast of supporting characters, who again didn't feel like characters in a book, but real live people who you just had the fortune to be experiencing on the page? Unsurprisingly, it was all of these things. The fact that this is Stedman's first novel fills me with awe and admiration and bitter jealous rage all at once. I can't wait to see what she writes next. Do yourself a favour and read this book. You are unlikely to regret it.