Monday, October 29, 2012
Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman
Author: M.L. Stedman
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: PG-13 for adult themes
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 113
Tom and Isabel have been living on Janus Rock, an island off Australia's western coast, where Tom is the lighthouse keeper, for half a decade. Their lives consist of watching the light, tending their goats, growing vegetables, visiting the mainland every two or three years, and losing babies. Just days after suffering a stillbirth, her third pregnancy loss over the course of their marriage, Isabel hears a baby crying. She thinks her mind is playing tricks on her, but eventually she and Tom discover a dinghy with a dead man and a living newborn. They have to make a decision-- do they report the death, or do they raise the child as their own? Isabel, awash in grief, can't imagine doing anything but raising the child.
Several years later, the family returns to the mainland for a visit home, where they hear about a woman who has fallen into madness after losing her husband and infant daughter. The dates match-- the daughter clearly belongs to the woman. And now what do Tom and Isabel do? What is the right choice for their daughter? For the woman? For them?
The Light Between Oceans has been well-reviewed, and I think that my frustration at the book is rooted more in my perspective as an adoptive parent. Like Tom and Isabel, I've had the experience of falling in love with a child who is not of my flesh, and also of watching my child have to readjust her entire worldview to adapt to life with different parents. One of my greatest fears is that we could somehow lose her or that she might not come to regard us as her parents. And Stedman shows that although Isabel may have been misguided in her choice, she was motivated by love and blossomed during the period that she was a mother. About 30 pages from the end it became evident that there was no way that there could be a happy ending for everyone in the book, and the last chapter, while nuanced and realistic, felt like a twist in the gut.