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, 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, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and 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.
When I first began reading this novel I did find it a little on the slow side and found some of the repetitive narrative and back story difficult to engage with. Having said that, once the scene was set and the two main characters (Tom and Isabel) find a baby in a boat that was washed up on their island, the story had me gripped to the very last page. I simply couldn’t put it down – I had to know what happened next. Without spoiling the story I can say that this new arrival challenged both the ethical and moral beliefs of two very different characters and I found myself asking: What would I do in that situation? and quite frankly – I have no idea. As the consequences of both Tom and Isabel’s actions become apparent throughout the story you really do find yourself splitting your opinion on who to feel for the most. Tom and Isabel find themselves in a terrible dilemma but guilt and moral beliefs rise to the surface as the right thing needs to be done. But what exactly is the right thing to do? Do the needs of the many really outweigh the needs of the few? This was an interesting and challenging debate that had our group divided.
Just as we thought that the situation couldn’t become any more complicated the introduction of the child’s natural mother is introduced. This brings to light a whole new aspect to the story and it is at this point that I started to change my attitude towards the two main characters. Some members of the group also found that the three main characters had you changing your opinion and questioning your own judgement throughout the story, but it is at this point that the consequences of Isabel and Tom’s actions really become apparent.
Not only did the group struggle with the moral values of the characters, but the characters themselves seem to struggle with the choices they make. The weight of the consequences seem too much for Tom and he makes a decision that changes the lives of everyone involved. Within the group we have members who have children and also members (such as myself) who do not. I thought that maybe the responses to Tom’s actions would vary within the group depending on whether or not they had children and, indeed, it did make some responses different to others. Personally, I would like to say that in a situation such as Tom and Isabel’s I would like to feel that I would have done what was morally right, but those with children said how clouded my vision would be if I’d had children myself. We decided that some situations did not have a right or wrong answer but only had actions that delivered the best possible outcome.
As a group we found this to be an excellent read with many issues to discuss, but some did find it quite upsetting towards the end – which it is. The thought provoking content and lovely style of writing make this a great book group choice and I would highly recommend it to other book groups. As a book to read on your own, it is very different but the story itself is filled with such intrigue and conflict that you will find yourself gripped by the characters choices, actions and consequences. Certainly a must read for anyone.