This book is filled with sadness and loss. There are happy moments but even those are shadowed by secrets and wrong doing.
Tom Sherbourne is haunted by the war and the things he had to do as a soldier. He also has some survivors guilt. Long time ago the lighthouse keepers were needed to set the light, take care of the structure and of course serve as warning to those sailing ships who may otherwise be unaware of the rocks and shore. Janus is a perfect island sanctuary for someone as haunted as Tom.
From Chapter 1:
He’s in a place where there’s just wind and waves and light, and the intricate machinery that keeps the flame burning and the lantern turning. Always turning, always looking over its shoulder. If he can only get far enough away – from people, from memory – time will do its job.
The writing is lyrical and you can certainly picture the scenes, see Tom’s frown, hear Isabel’s peals of laughter. Before heading out to his post it’s customary to join the Harbormaster and family for a dinner. This is where he meets Isabel, actually for the second time. She was feeding birds when he first spoke to her and he is enchanted with her vibrant outlook on life.
Fast forward and they are writing to one another and eventually marry. The happiness is short lived when Izzy has several failed pregnancies. As she is tending one of the graves of her stillborn children she hears a baby cry. It must be her imagination, or madness. Then Tom yells there is a boat adrift in the cove and they run to it. Inside is a dead man and a live baby girl.
Tom, as keeper of the books on the lighthouse, needs to record this event and signal for a ship to come and pick up the baby and the body of the man. This is where things go south. Isabel wants that baby with all her heart.
Tom: “But that’s just it. We don’t need to do anything wrong. We could report her now and apply to adopt her. It’s not too late, Izz. We can still make it right.”
“Adopt her?” Isabel stiffened. “They’d never send a baby to a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere: no doctor, no school. No church probably worries them the most. And even if they did put her up for adoption , they’d want to give her to some couple in a town somewhere.”
Isabel names the baby Lucy and becomes the perfect most patient young mother. Lucy thrives on the island. Isabel is content to let people know she gave birth and pass Lucy off as her own. After all, people knew she was pregnant and being so isolated no one knew of the miscarriages. Tom begins to love the child but he is troubled by the perjury of records, he is worried about whose baby this is and the grief the mother must be experiencing. As he continually mentions they need to tell someone about Lucy, Isabel is always ready with an argument why they shouldn’t.
They start to fall apart. Isabel questions Tom as to why he’s put so much spit and polish in for the next inspection.
“I want it shipshape, that’s all. I’ve told you, we’re in with a chance for the Point Moore posting. We’d be on land, close to Gerladton. Near people. And we’d be hundreds of miles from Partageuse.”
“Time was you couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Janus.”
“Yeah, well, times change.”
“It’s not time that’s changed, Tom,” she said. “You’re the one who always says that if a lighthouse looks like it’s in a different place, it’s not the lighthouse that’s moved.”
“Well you work out what has,” he said as he picked up his spanner and headed off……..
Meanwhile, you read about Lucy’s mother who is alive and grieving all these years for her husband and her baby named Grace. There are plot twists you won’t see coming. This is not a predictable outcome and you feel empathy for both Isabel and Lucy/Grace’s mother just about equally. This isn’t a happily ever after book but it is a well written novel, the imagery and emotions are first class.
I would like to read more by this author. Not sure if I’d watch the movie though.
Here is a still shot from the movie – Tom and Isabel when they were happy. Perfect.