What makes a good fiction book? That is a difficult question. Does it entertain? Does it educate? Does it evoke a strong emotional reaction? The Light Between Oceans is not a book that I would typically choose for myself but as I discussed my reaction to the non fiction book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken with a good friend, she brought over the Stedman book and wanted to see what I thought. They both deal with women who have lost children and there the comparison ends. While I LOVED McCracken’s book, I enjoyed Stedman’s work, not because it was poetic or particularly well written, but it did evoke a strong response.
Tom Sherbourne is an Australian who served in the trenches of WWI. As he returns to his home country he seeks to find solace in working as the keeper of the light house on Janus Rock. Thought the island is isolated and nearly a days journey from the coast of Australia, Sherbourne manages to find an energetic and spontaneous wife, Isabel. While on the island Isabel suffers various miscarriages and nearly two weeks after the still born birth of her latest child, a boat crashes on Janus Rock containing a dead man, and a live baby. The Sherbourne’s are torn about what to do with the child. Tom, naturally wants to signal for help. Isabel, naturally, wants to keep the child. Their decision causes problems within their marriage, and within Tom’s own conscience.
I have never had a miscarriage, but I remember keenly as a four year old, when my mother had a miscarriage. I have sat with friends who cried over their losses and I have done my best to sympathize. As a parent to three healthy kids, I find it hard to reconcile Tom and Isabel’s choice. I felt almost angry towards Isabel, especially as the story progressed. Stedman’s book was a quick read, though I felt some of the characters were glossed over in various ways. We learn more and more about Tom Sherbourne and his past, but it doesn’t seem to connect with the person we see. Those little details made the book less likable overall, but I could see this book being enjoyable to those looking for an engaging quick historical(ish) fiction.