I struggled with this book, it starts very slowly and I felt for a good third of the book that nothing really happened. Having read others reviews it seems I’m not alone. I think the author is setting the scene and drawing the reader into the characters’ lives so that empathy abounds when they do what they do – more on that later.
The book is set in Australia in the mid 1920s, following a young man on his return from the war. He is obviously traumatised by the things he has seen and the friends he has lost and struggling to come to terms with his own survival. His answer is to become a light house keeper in a remote spot where he spends months on end totally alone. On shore leave he meets Izzy who is coming to terms from her own war story, in particular losing both her brothers. And so starts a love story led by Izzy and the two end up married and living in glorious isolation on their island paradise.
Spoilers coming up so stop reading now if you want to read the book and not know what happens.
The book turns on an event which I found somewhat hard to believe. I didn’t feel the isolation and I didn’t get the sense of longing I think I was supposed to get. So it came as a bit of a surprise when a boat with a small baby and a dead man washed up and Izzy was so drawn to the baby to insist on keeping it. Her pregnancies and subsequent miscarriages had been glossed over in my view. So I couldn’t empathise with the choice that Izzy made and why Tom went along with it. They knew nothing about the man or the baby yet somehow persuaded themselves there was no one waiting for the pair or worried about their whereabouts. There was an element of guilt coming through but overall just a happy little family, I think I was more bothered than they were!
When the inevitable happened and their secret was found out, I found it got more unbelievable. Izzy seemed convinced that the best thing for the child was to stay with her, she turned against Tom and wouldn’t talk to her parents. I struggled to understand how Izzy had no empathy with the baby’s birth mother, as one who had suffered loss it seemed natural that she would have some understanding for another who had also suffered loss, but none of that was there. The baby, now a young child spent most of the time screaming. It’s very understandable that she would be upset and confused, but the way it was dealt with was just to place her back with her birth family and use her birth name. Where is the effort to work with the child, help her with this hardest of transitions? I know this was the 1920s and today’s ways of dealing with these things are completely different but it felt lacking to me.
After much angst, screaming and arguing, Tom spent time in jail and Izzy didn’t. The child eventually settled and Tom and Izzy reunited mainly on the premise that an experience such as this means the future can only be shared with the one you shared it with in the first place. I won’t give away the ending here, just say that it was all a little too happily ever after for me, albeit in a bitter sweet way.
I think it fair to say this was not my favourite book, but it was easy to read. It’s been turned into a movie which is no real surprise, the chance to film in a great and beautiful location with a tear jerker of a story. I won’t however be rushing to see it.