In ancient Roman mythology, there is a god named Janus. The god of beginnings and endings, transitions and time. He looked into the future and the past, and symbolised the change undertaken when people grow up and make decisions. I find it no coincidence that his name is used often to represent a place of great change, a place that requires knowledge of both the past and the future to fully understand the current situation. But, I digress…
I love good Australian fiction. In a market flooded with novels from the UK and US, a standout Australian debut is hard to find. Despite being located in London, Western Australian-born M.L. Stedman has perfectly captured the many facets of the Australian spirit in her debut novel The Light Between Oceans. The novel, predominantly set in the 1920s, is a story as much about love as it is about loss, as much about what it means to be right as it is to be wrong, and explores the blurry line between honouring yourself and honouring others.
Tom and Isabel Sherbourne live an isolated life on Janus (!!!) Rock, a tiny island off the coast of Western Australia. Tom, the lighthouse keeper, chose the isolation of the island to recover from World War I. By chance, on returning to the mainland on one of his infrequent visits after the War, he met his now-wife Isabel. Their otherwise happy life is only tainted by Isabel’s repeated miscarriages and stillbirths. So when a dinghy washes up on the island carrying a dead man and a baby girl, the Sherbourne’s make a decision that will change their lives forever: instead of alerting the authorities, they decide to keep the child and adopt her as their own. But somewhere, not too far from home, a mother is missing her child and it’s only a matter of time before the cracks begin to show in the life the Sherbourne’s have created for themselves.
I think my favourite thing about this novel is the ongoing struggle between right and wrong. For the reader, each character is so exquisitely detailed that what starts as a simple question of morality evolves into a deeper reflection on, essentially, eternal themes of the human condition. The push and pull effect between love and honour makes this a fascinating read and really pushes the reader to contemplate how they would react in a similar situation. Moral ambiguity is rarely so well executed and each character provides compelling reasons for their actions. This unique novel is somewhat lyrical in the rich descriptions of people, places and time. It will take you on a journey that is not easily forgotten, and I urge you to get on board.