*The Light Between Oceans* takes a thought-experiment as plot: on a desert island you and your husband find a baby, you’d like to keep the baby and so you do, even though your husband has reservations, years go by and the baby becomes and is yours until you discover elsewhere on the island the grieving, *real* mother of the baby. What do you do? Do you return the baby?
Into this murky moral waters M.L. Stedman enters in the later two thirds of the novel. The first third of the novel is taken up with introducing this moral problem and is executed brilliantly: characters are well developed, the setting (an isolated lighthouse post) feels just this side of clever in terms of a too obvious metaphor and shifts between third person limited narration are made smoothly and in ways that enrich our understanding of their relationships.
But once the moral quandary arrives Stedman is overextended. His characters steadfastly adopt one position – the wife is for keeping the baby, the husband for returning her – without believable, let alone compelling, wrestling with the moral question. It is as if after making this moral problem utterly concrete in the scripted plot Stedman opts to return to the ethereal thought-problem by having the two characters stand in for moral positions rather for the whole people they have been up until the midpoint.
I stayed interested in the question even as my concern for the characters disappeared, and was (I’ll admit) impressed with the way Stedman resolved the question (a resolution I won’t spoil in case you’d like to read it).
Until. Until the epilogue. I’ve been trying to think of one good epilogue I’ve (ever) read and am coming up empty. This novel keeps with the tradition of ruining perfectly good endings by needing to end *again.* Why can’t the author trust the reader with being unsettled? Why should we as readers expect a neat solution or consolation? Don’t we read, in part, to look and poke at these questions in the safety of a novel where we trust the author to give us a believable – not necessarily comfortable – conclusion? Reading the epilogue made me distrust all I’d read before as if it was all a setup for this pat dismissal of the possibility – perhaps the necessity? – that these characters should suffer and *continue to suffer* because of their choices.
So if you can commit to *not* reading the epilogue (and to ignoring the increasingly forceful last few sentences of each chapter that insist on including references to light, dark and shadow in case we’re likely to miss that we’re in a gray area and need the moral guidance of the “light”) then you might well enjoy this novel. Everyone else seems to be reading it and it will give you an opportunity to weigh just how much you love your (partner) (child) (mother) (sister) and whether you love your own happiness more.