The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
I've just got to say upfront that I listened to the audio version of this book, and I can't say I recommend that. I mean, yes, it was nice to hear everything pronounced in an Australian accent, but the reader's voice was not my favorite. He was so soft spoken that I kept having to turn my volume way up to try and catch what he was saying, and even then I feel like I missed out on a lot of the finer details (seriously, it was like he was mumbling). Also, I'm just not sure about the choice to use a male narrator here. I understand that Tom Sherbourne is probably the most common point of view in the story, but the language and descriptions (especially about babies) just felt so feminine to me that I think a female reader would have felt more natural. But whatever. It was fine.
Besides the fact that I didn't care for the audio production, and the fact that it took me FOREVER to finish this book (I think I started it back in February, which is seriously pathetic), I actually loved this book quite a bit. It was beautifully written, and the characters were so real and believable. Which was the tragic part. Especially Isabel. I felt like her flaws were so real, so understandable, and yet so unforgivable. The conundrum these people get into! It's terrible and heart-wrenching. And even though I knew the whole time that they should have notified the authorities and turned the baby in, and even when I sympathized with Tom for doing the "right" thing in the end, my heart just broke for Isabel. Being a mother myself, I felt her desire and longing and pain, and it was excruciating. And poor Tom just loved her and just wanted her to be happy, but couldn't live with a guilty conscience.
This was one of those books that really made me think, "What would I do if I were in their place?" I would like to think I would have enough sense not to keep a baby that wasn't mine, but then again, I've never had a miscarriage (knock on wood, real hard please). I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose a baby, and then have one turn up unexpectedly that for all the world looked like an unwanted orphan. I can really understand how Isabel thought it was a sign from God. But poor Hannah (the real mother)! I can't imagine her pain. What a terrible mess. There were so many times when I wondered, "What is the right thing to do here? Who really is to blame?" When I described the scenario to my husband, it was as clear as black and white who was wrong and who was to blame, but I tried explaining that when you get involved with the emotions of the characters (and in my present pregnant condition, I can't help sympathizing with the emotions of everyone in this book, especially the mothers), it's really not so clear (my dear, sweet, extremely logical husband has never been good about sympathizing with hormonally-charged emotions). This book is just about honest good people who make misguided decisions that lead to terrible messy situations where a lot of people end up hurt. And you just wonder how good people can make such a mess of things.
Anyway, I hope I'm not giving too much of the plot away for those of you who are interested. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-written, heart-wrenching little story. I can't say I think this one will go down as a classic exactly, but I found it a very thought-provoking and worthwhile read. Right now I'm giving it four stars (though I might change it to five, we'll see how long it sticks with me).