I am ambivalent about “The Light Between Oceans,” by M.L. Stedman. I liked most of the story, about a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia, and his wife. I liked the lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne, a haunted hero of the Great War. The details of his silent life alone on the island and the precision of his work drew me in.
But I didn’t care for his wife, Isabel, a rich girl from the coastal small town. She wants to pry into memories he has tried to bury. She claims to enjoy their isolation, but I don’t believe her. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic about her multiple miscarriages. But keeping the baby that washes ashore in a dinghy with a dead man at the oars – I’m with Tom: It’s just not right.
You can’t just acquire someone else’s baby. Of course Tom grows to love her – she’s one of those perfectly sweet babies so often found in novels, instead of the screaming brats many of us have to care for. But Tom is always uneasy about the lie he has recorded in his logbook. Lies are what you tell young men about to run into machine gunfire.
“The Light Bewteen Oceans” is a good book for a rainy afternoon – in November, say, when you can hear “The Band Played ‘Waltzing Matilda’” in your mind. The war, like all wars, took good men and turned them into monsters. Tom is one of those who turned himself back into a human. He deserves a happier life than the one he gets.
And there you see Stedman’s success: She made me care about him.