The Light Between Oceans is the story of the bonds between parents and children. It explores the implacable strength of these bonds, but also their possible destructive power, and the deep sorrow if these bonds are broken. It is about betrayal and forgiveness and people trying to do the right and moral thing, but inadvertently causing more suffering.
Tom has just returned to Australia from the trenches of World War I. He chooses the isolation of lighthouse keeping to have time to be quiet and not think about the wounds he carries on his soul. He expects to stay alone, but he meets bubbly Isabel who is happy to live with him on isolated Janus rock. They only see other people every three months when the boat brings supplies, and only get shore leave once every three years. Their life is happy until Isabel has three miscarriages. After a storm, a boat washes up on shore containing a dead man and a tiny baby. Isabel and Tom assume that both parents are dead and it seems to Isabel that God has brought them a gift to replace their dead children and that they will be able to keep the baby forever as their own daughter. Then with a Shakespearean sense of impending and unavoidable tragedy, the events unfold.
The calamitous shadow of World War I looms over the story, even in a small Western Australian town, and even in the late 1920s. Of his war experiences Tom will only say to Isabel, “Trying to describe it would be like passing on a disease.” Isabel is her parents’ only surviving child as both her brothers were killed, which was typical of Australia, even though it is so far from the battlefields of Europe.
The Light Between Oceans is a haunting and wrenching story filled with a pervasive sense of loss. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen as all the possible outcomes seemed to be flawed and tragic. Despite this, it is a moving portrait of family bonds (“There is no defending yourself from the love of a baby”) and a wonderful lesson in the power and necessity of forgiveness, when Tom says, “To have a future, you have to give up hope of changing the past.” Plunge in to this book if you like compelling, character-driven literary fiction such as The Orchardist or more fantastically, The Night Circus.
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