SO I am just going to warn you now there are major spoilers in this. This is basically a post for people who are in desperate need of a support group after having their souls destroyed by this amazing book. I if you are looking for a book that will leave an impression on your life, this is the one.
The novel is set in the coastal Australian town of Partageuse, where war-hero Tom Sherbourne is serving his stint as the Lighthouse Keeper of Janus Rock. Janus Rock is an isolated island miles off the Partageuse shores, and he hopes to cleanse himself of the war in the solitude. Eventually he meets and then marries Isabel Graysmark, and she joins him in “their paradise”.
Isabel becomes pregnant and much to their dismay looses the pregnancy. And then two more after. It completely breaks her. One day while tending to the small cross that her husband had built for their third baby, she heard the sound of a baby crying. They find a boat washed up on shore with a dead man and a crying baby inside.
Isabel begs Tom to bury the man and allow her to keep the baby there claiming to the world it was the baby they just lost. It truly was safe to assume that the baby had lost her mother as well. Tom, a man of honor, is caught between the obligation as the lighthouse master to report everything that happens on Janus rock as well as the morality of making sure the baby has no mother, and the love of his wife who he could not watch her loose another child. Reluctantly, he agrees to keep the baby who they named “Lucy”. This decision sets off a whirl of events.
Eventually they come to find that the baby’s mother, Hannah, is in fact alive and has gone mad in her grief, walking around aimlessly like a ghost. Her husband had run off with the baby in a boat to protect Lucy and himself from the townspeople who hated him for being “German” (although he was Austrian) and were hunting him down in an angry drunken mob.
Now Tom and Isabel are caught in a moral dilemma. Tom cannot bear the idea of keeping the child from her mother, and Isabel can’t bear the idea of taking her now three year old daughter and giving her to this person who was a total stranger.
Eventually Tom’s guilt over comes him and he leaves a note for Hannah telling her the baby is safe and to pray for him, along with an intricately made rattle. Hannah takes the rattle to the authorities, and when it is positively identified the police show up on Janus Rock. Tom is arrested and Lucy is taken from Isabel and returned to Hannah, the mother who was now a stranger.
Isabel goes into a dark madness and turns her pain into hatred towards Tom for doing this. In her mind, he had done the worst possible thing. She rationalized not giving Lucy back to Hannah because they had already given Lucy a new life and hated Tom for taking that life from them.
Tom feels he has destroyed his wife and the life of the child he had come to love so deeply. He decided to do the only thing he thought he could do and take all the blame for not reporting the body and the baby almost four years ago. By doing this, he absolves Isabel of all guilt claiming that he forced her to go along with his plan.
There is Lucy, or “Grace” as Hannah called her, who had been ripped from the people she called family, given a new name and a new mother. She screamed for her mother, and hated Hannah. The violent turmoil in her heart is so deeply expressed in M.L. Stedman’s words. It’s touching and terrible.
Then finally there is Hannah, the woman who’s family was ripped from her arms, and then when given a second chance her own daughter rejects her. She hates that she screams for Isabel, and hates Isabel and Tom for taking her. She even considers giving Lucy back, although it would betray her heart, to save the little girl from her pain. As a mother, I would kill for my child. It would be devastating to finally have your baby back in your arms and have her scream for her captor.
But are Tom and Isabel really Lucy’s captor? Who is the bad guy? Is it Isabel who driven to near madness by her multiple still born babies who decided to keep a baby who she believed God had given to her to care for when she thought the mother was dead? Does it make her a villain because by the time she realized the mother was alive she decided that since her daughter was now 2 it was just too late and they had to live with that and move forward? Is Tom in the wrong for not being the voice of reason to begin with, or for deciding to be a voice of reason too late? Does it make him evil that he saw his wife suffering and wanted to give her something to ease that pain? Is Hannah evil for cutting Lucy from this life and forcing her into a new life, when this is HER child that was taken from her?
The moral delemma in this book is just intense. In the end Lucy is now Grace and she will not be going back to the Sherbourne’s, and Hannah dropped the charges sending Tom and Isabel to relocate and pick up the broken pieces of their marriage. To forgive eachother for the pain they had caused themselves. I lost it then. I so wanted Lucy to be with Tom and Isabel, but then that’s wrong. Because Hannah IS her mother. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
I cried all the way through Tom and Isabel growing old together, and through Isabel getting cancer and dying 20 years after Lucy was returned to her mother. I outright BAWLED when Lucy showed up with a brand new son of her own to see the people who had saved her from the ocean and loved her during her first years of life. It was a peaceful, emotional reunion bittersweet because Isabel was gone. Isabel had left a note for Lucy, by this time I was ugly crying, and in it expressed how happy she was that Lucy sought them out and that she loved her.
After reading the book, I cried silently for a minute while my husband slept beside me. I then woke him up and told him what happened to which he stared at me like “are you fucking kidding me” and shook his head. He had no idea what kind of trauma I had just experienced.