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"A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper's island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision...." (taken from the back of the book).
'The Light Between Oceans' by M.L. Stedman is a story set in a remote part of Australia, back in the 1920s. It is the story of Tom and Izzy, a young couple who meet, fall in love, marry and move to a remote lighthouse keeper's island off the West Australian coast, at the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern Ocean and the vast expanse of water stretches all the way to Africa. Out there on their island, there is nothing except Tom and Izzy, and the lighthouse itself. Their contact with the mainland and their families is sparse - there is a boat which comes out to bring supplies and post every three months - but that is the only contact with the wider world that they have. Therefore, when the aforementioned boat washes up on the island and they make their decision, there is nobody except their consciences to answer to... at least, not until they are back on the mainland and they begin to realise the consequences of what they have chosen to do. On the island, taking care of a baby which is even more alone in the world than they are seems like a logical decision (especially taking into account their back story), but is the baby really theirs to keep?
It is difficult to review this book effectively without giving too much of the plot away. The story of the boat, the dead man and the baby is actually the first chapter - a flash forward, if you like, of what will happen later on, as the story immediately jumps back 8 years to Tom's first posting as a lighthouse keeper. Before the incident appears in its rightful place in the thread of the story, the characters of Tom and Izzy, their backgrounds (Tom's experience fighting in Europe in the First World War, the loss of Izzy's beloved older brothers in the same war) and their lives on their remote island have all been expertly developed and the reader has built up a real empathy with the characters. Therefore, when they make their decision, although it is not necessarily the 'right decision' in moral terms, you sympathise with them and want things to work out in their favour. I feel that this is skilfully done by the author - Tom and Izzy's story pulls at your heartstrings, builds up a well of emotion and, ultimately, makes you really care about them as characters. As well as character development, the descriptive language in this novel is really evocative and you can easily imagine the remote island, the lighthouse and what their lives must have been like out there. The later part of the story set back on the mainland is also very well written and a bit more dramatic / fast-paced - this is partly because events unfold at a faster pace in this segment of the story but also, I think, to provide a contrast to the slower pace of the lighthouse island section.
Overall, this is a book that I loved. It is a story which challenged my perception of what is right and wrong especially, I think, reading it from a mother's perspective. Bits of the story made me smile, but overall, it was a heartbreaking read which made me cry on more than one occasion. There's a quote on the front cover which says "This is a story about right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same" and I think this is completely true of this book. Deep down, you know what is 'right', but the book challenges that 'belief' and makes you feel something completely different... all through the book I just wanted there to be a happy ending, even though I knew that the nature of the book meant that tying it all up with a 'happily ever after' would just be wrong. In conclusion, I really recommend this book - just make sure you have stocked up on tissues first.