By M.L. Stedman
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.
M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.
I wanted to like this book so much. It had a beautiful cover and an intriguing premise. But I didn’t feel compelled by any of the characters and was just annoyed with them.
Isabel’s choice to keep the baby struck me as extraordinarily selfish. And the results of that choice further cement that decision as a selfish one. I didn’t like anything about her character and thought Tom deserved better than her.
When they return to the mainland and discover the baby’s mother is still alive and heartbroken, Tom decides to leave her a note that the baby is all right. When he later sends the rattle, Tom is arrested because, while it is revealed that they knowingly fabricated the records and passed the baby off as their own, Tom takes sole responsibility for this.
I liked Tom during the first half of the book, but his willingness to act the martyr for Isabel, even when it seems he may be put to death for Isabel’s choice, was just too much. I think Tom was wrong to contact the baby’s mother, but Isabel was insufferable with her reaction to Tom’s “betrayal”. Ugh.
The only character I liked and felt anything for was Lucy, the baby caught in the middle of all this. Even Lucy’s mother didn’t end up being a very sympathetic character.
Overall, this was just such a disappointment.