I did something rather stupid about halfway through the book. Knowing there was a movie of The Light Between Oceans, I had a look at Metascore, just to see what reviewers were making of the movie. And while I didn’t get any direct plot spoilers, I did see a quote from one reviewer that said, and I quote: ‘Just when the audience is gearing up for a powerfully tragic resolution of the kind that Thomas Hardy might have written, the movie veers off into Nicholas Sparks territory instead.’
Which all of a sudden ruined the book for me. Because I now spent the remainder of the story with the growing suspicion that this was going to have a Mushy Ending of some sorts that would take the edge off the story.
The result, of course, without giving away any plot points, is that the ending does land somewhere between the bleakly tragic and the tearfully mushy, but I’m not sure if that is how it is meant to feel or whether I ruined it for myself by checking out the cinema review and thus biased myself towards the ending.
Anyway, to talk about what it is – the story set-up is melodramatic and over-the-top in many respects, but works perfectly because of the attention to detail that Stedman gives us. A lighthouse keeper and his wife live on a remote island where they only see other people every three months. This is in the 1920s, so Tom is still suffering from the trauma of the war and Isabel is struggling with her several miscarriages. (In many ways, both of these tragedies are connected by the idea of the death of children before their time.)
One day, a boat arrives on the shore, bearing a dead man and a living baby. Rather than report the incident, they decide to keep the baby. There are various reasons for why they make this particular choice, all of which we readers can immediately sympathise with but – of course – this decision is to be the turning point that causes all the angst moving forward.
It’s a gripping story, and I got sucked right in, but I will confess I found the first half of the story more compelling. Here we find the back story for Tom and Isabel, the lighthouse couple, and also witness their moral struggle with whether they did the right thing, and the increasing seeds of guilt and untruth that creep in.
The second half of the book is a lot more plot-driven, due to the direction that the story takes. While this certainly goes by quickly, taking the focus off the two main characters like that seemed to lose a bit of the magic somehow.
But, look, these are small quibbles. It’s a great Australian tragedy. If it had been made 70 years ago as a black-and-white movie, it would have been considered one of the great weepies of all time. Bring your tissues if you’re going to read this one.