Wed, 19 Sept 2018
Tom Sherbourne returns from the war battered and bruised from his experiences fighting on the front but hailed a hero for his efforts.
All he wants is a quiet life and so when the post of lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, off the coast of Australia comes up, he grabs the chance. Months of solitude with just the ocean and the lighthouse for company seems immensely appealing to him.
But he did not reckon on falling in love with Izzy, several years younger than him and swept away by the romantic notion of an island all to themselves.
The depiction of the island and the role of the lighthouse keeper is vividly portrayed and Stedman manages to paint a picture of the isolation and yet the beauty of it as well.
The problem for the couple lies in Isabel’s inability to carry a baby to full term. She is desperate for a child and again the reader feels her distress and Tom’s helplessness when he is unable to help her.
The day after her third miscarriage, at seven months, a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man in it, and a baby, still very much alive, nestled against him.
It seems to Isabel her prayers have been answered and despite his misgivings, Tom goes along with the deceit setting in motion a path to inevitable tragedy.
As things start to unravel, and the local community is inevitably drawn in to the events which unfold, the reader is torn between despair for the couple and the knowledge that what they have done is wrong and that the baby will still have a family grieving for her.
The various characters that become entangled in the plot are all believable from the bemused grandparents, to the police to the baby’s real mother. The town of Partageuse feels very real and with every turn of the page it is a heartwrenching read, but ultimately there is a sense of redemption and of humanity’s goodness.
If I had to criticise the book, I would say that Stedman leads the reader on a path that implies this story can only end in a tragedy of Thomas Hardy-like proportions. In the end, I think she slightly went back on her word and decided to wrap it all up rather neatly – that’s not to say that I wanted people to suffer any more than they already were, but it’s just a criticism of the at times rather over-dramatic and suspense-laden passages.
It’s neither a happy nor unhappy ending but it is the right one.