It is the early 1920s and Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabelle live alone on the Australian island of Janus, where Tom manages the lighthouse there. It is a difficult life of isolation, and Izzy is heartsick for a child after suffering three miscarriages. Then, a boat washes up on the island containing a dead man and his very-much-alive infant daughter. Not at all off put by the corpse, Izzy perceives the child’s arrival as a miracle. Tom immediately wants to report the incident, but Izzy begs him to bury the man and instead report that the child is theirs (Izzy’s most recent miscarriage was a scant two weeks before and the couple was too upset to convey this news to their families yet). Tom has not seen Izzy this happy in months, and he cannot bring himself to cause any more pain to his wife.
The Sherbournes plant the lie and pass the next year peacefully as a happy family. It is not until they travel to the mainland with baby Lucy that they learn that the child’s birthmother is alive and grieving the loss of her husband and baby daughter, presumed to be lost at sea. Izzy thinks it would be inhumane to tear Lucy away from everything she knows, but Tom cannot bear the guilt of their secret and the pain that it has caused Hannah (the birthmother) and her family.
The Light Between Oceans is beautifully written with melodic phrasing and a tone tinged with melancholy. That being said, this is one of the most emotionally draining, depressing novels that I have ever read. At no time in this entire novel is anyone consistently happy – or even merely content, for that matter. The Sherbournes clearly love Lucy, but Tom can barely look at her without being overcome by guilt. Izzy has become completely immersed in her role as Lucy’s mother, and Hannah becomes the antagonist by taking this poor child away from her mother. But Hannah is the birthmother; Izzy found this woman’s baby and kept the infant for herself, which places Hannah in the victim role. There are so many layers here that there is no way for a tidy resolution, and at the end, everyone is still suffering in one way or another.
I’m not trying to say the book is bad – it’s quite the opposite. However, if you are prone to depression, alcoholism, or thoughts of suicide, please consult your doctor before reading.