This is, undoubtedly, almost a really good book. I think the main clincher for me was that it’s set in the old country – Australia – so everything was familiar: the places I’d lived in and visited, the wildlife, culture, and, of course, the language. You really can’t beat Aussie vernacular for getting straight to the point and making things entertaining in the process. “Chuck a wobbly” is one of my favourites, and it’s nice to be able to say so-called naughty words like “bloody” and “buggered” and not be told off for swearing. These are not considered swear words Down Under.
But getting back to the book: this is Stedman’s first novel, and at its center is a child and the moral dilemma that surrounds her. Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia after serving four harrowing years in the First World War. He takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia, where supplies are delivered only four times a year. He takes with him his young wife, Isabel, the daughter of the school headmaster at Portageuse, the mainland town that services the lighthouse. After two miscarriages and a still born baby, Isabel grieves for a child she fears she may never have. When a rowing boat becomes stranded on the Janus shoreline with a dead man and a crying baby inside, Isabel senses an opportunity.
Despite Tom’s strong protestations, Isabel convinces him that they should bury the dead man and keep the child. She has only just lost the third baby, and as nobody knows that it was still born, they could easily pass the child off as their own. They name her Lucy, and she becomes their daughter. Tom struggles daily with the crime, wishing to tell the authorities on one hand, but in love with the child on the other. When they discover that Lucy’s birth mother, Hannah, is alive and grieving for her child and husband, the struggle becomes even more difficult.
As the reader, we see all sides of the story and want things to work out for everyone. Tom is a good, honest man. Isabel is a desperate mother. Hannah mourns for her child and husband. The child is caught in between.