I've had my eye on this novel since I started seeing it on lists when first released. It finally came out in paperback earlier this month, and I immediately snatched it up, using an upcoming plane trip as justification though I would have bought it regardless. It was an incredibly moving and well written debut novel, and I can't wait to see what else this author comes up with.
Tom Sherbourne is an Australian World War I vet, and haunted by his experiences, he takes on duties as a light house keeper, a lonely job that gives him time to be alone with his thoughts. Sent on a temporary six months assignment to Janus Rock, he meets Isabel in the port town before he leaves for the island and both leave an impression on each other - she is the first person that has made him laugh in a long time, and she is attracted to him as well. She sends him a letter with the supply boat, and he takes advantage of his opportunity of his time on shore to hesitantly court her. Tom's assignment becomes permanent, and when he marries Isabel, he brings her to the lonely but beautiful life of Janus Rock. The supply ship only comes every three months, and Tom only gets a month off every three years so the couple is isolated and on their own but generally happy. As the years accumulate, however, Isabel faces miscarriages, and her sadness grows.
After her latest miscarriage, a boat washes ashore with a small baby girl and a dead man, presumably her father. It is at this point that Isabel convinces Tom not to report this incident, and that they should keep the girl to raise as their own. Despite his reservations, Tom agrees, and Lucy becomes the third member of their family. Unfortunately, despite Isabel's conviction that the mother abandoned her child and must already be dead, the child did have a family left behind, and when Tom discovers the pain his actions caused another, it eats at him.
The novel is beautifully written and all the characters' actions and choices make complete sense in their contexts. After that one fateful decision, there is no way to resolve this situation in any way that wouldn't be heartbreaking or weigh on Tom's conscience. This isn't my favorite read of the year, but it is in a way a perfect novel. While it left me sad about the outcome, there was no way I could imagine the novel progressing differently or the characters acting any way other than the way they did. It's actually refreshing to read a novel and not spend half the time questioning why a character behaved in a certain way. Even though I disagreed with Isabel's reasoning for why they should keep the infant, I understood why she would have made herself believe that. I loved Tom and the type of person he was, and the way Stedman showed how Isabel and Tom's perspectives differed on small things to portray the differences in their personalities and views. I am so glad I finally read this, and it would have been worth the hardcover. Definitely recommended.