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Book Review #209

Hardcover, 343 pages

Published July 31st, 2012 by Scribner (first published 2012)

Original Title

The Light Between Oceans


1451681739 (ISBN13: 9781451681734)

Edition Language




Australia, 1926

Literary Awards

Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Book of the Year (2013), Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Literary Fiction and Newcomer (2013), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2013), Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction (2012), HWA Debut Crown (2013)

I had very mixed feelings about this book. It certainly is not great literature, though the writing improved as the story progressed. Undoubtedly, it is rather contrived and predictable story, but it still had a definite pull on me.

The scene for most of the book is a desolate island off the coast of Australia in the 1920s. Tom is the lighthouse keeper and has recently come back from WW I. The lonely life as keeper of the lighthouse appeals to him; it gives him the routine and discipline that is helpful to assuage the guilt he feels that his own life was spared but so many of his friends died in the War. He marries Isabel, a young woman who has lived a protective life but thinks of life on this island as a romantic adventure. The couple very much wants a child but, unfortunately, Isabel has three miscarriages. One day a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man and a living three-month-old baby girl. Isabel says it is God’s will that they were given this miracle baby and pressures her husband into keeping it.

This book is about choices. Isabel feels she deserves the baby. Tom thinks it is wrong for them to keep it, but he goes against his better judgment and gives in to Isabel’s wishes. Because of this lack of moral integrity, they cause much pain to themselves and others and are estranged from each other.

It was hard for me to feel sympathetic to Isabel. In fact, I did not like her. (Tom was more appealing and loving). Isobel had three miscarriages, which is sad, but she did nothing to consult a doctor between them. She was irresponsible in not having a doctor examine her. Perhaps, her miscarriages could have been prevented if she had done so. Isabel selfishly kept the baby without any consideration for the real mother. The island was not far from civilization, and inquiries could have been made. Isabel had no remorse for keeping Lucy, the baby, even when the real mother was located. She justified keeping the baby away from her birth mother by saying it was better for Lucy not to be uprooted from the only parents she knew. Isabel was a selfish person who let her husband get blamed for keeping the baby. Only towards the very end of the book did she take some of the blame on herself. Tom did jail time for his part, whereas she ended up on probation in the care of her parents.

During the convolutions of the plot, the right decision to make at a given time is called into question. Lucy is very happy with Isabel and Tom. Is it right to uproot her and return her to her birth mother, a stranger? Lucy goes through heartbreaking torment, as does her mother. However, eventually, the little girl adjusts to the birth family that loves her.

The last part of the book is somewhat redeeming because Tom and Isabel are living more honestly. However, it was hard for me to deeply immerse myself in the book when I could not identify with Isabel even though I have suffered a miscarriage as well.

This is the author’s first novel, so, perhaps, the second will be better.