CAVEAT: If you have suffered from a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child, I would strongly suggest that you not read this book. While well-written and deeply insightful, the descriptions of these issues is very frank, detailed, and emotionally fraught.
NOTE: This post may have some spoilers, and although I have tried my best to limit my plot details that are revealed early on in the novel or on the book jacket, if you prefer to be completely surprised, you might not want to read on.
After serving in the trenches of Europe during World War I, surrounded by bloodshed and misery for years, Tom returns home to Australia hoping to live a quiet life far from the muddy battlefields and memories of the men he watched die. He takes a position as a lighthouse keeper and finds the simple life a great source of contentment. When he is offered a position at one of Australia’s most remote and dangerous islands, he accepts without hesitation. On Janus Rock, Tom finds that the space, solitude, and connection to the the rhythms of nature quiet his mind and bring him peace.
When he returns to the mainland for a break, he meets and falls for Isabel. Isabel is young, gorgeous, and vivacious and Tom feels like he has come back to life when he is with her. The two marry within the year and Isabel comes to live on Janus Rock. Just as Tom did before her, Isabel falls in love with the island and the freedom it offers the newlyweds.
Isabel’s dreams of becoming a mother look like they have come true when she gets pregnant, but a terrible miscarriage claims that baby early on. A second pregnancy ends the same. Terrified, Isabel finds she is pregnant a third time and she and Tom slowly, slowly begin to trust that their dreams of family will finally come true. Each day the couple grows more and more excited to welcome their baby.
Isabel’s heartaches have just begun. The third baby is born stillborn and Isabel’s succumbs to a dangerous depression. Isabel’s anguish and Tom’s helplessness over her heartache are so acute, Tom is ready to radio the shore for a boat to take Isabel home to her parents. He is preempted by the arrival of a boat, washed ashore after a storm containing a dead man and an infant baby girl. Although it seems inevitable to readers, Tom is shocked when Isabel tells him the baby was sent to her by God and she intends to keep the baby and raise her as her own.
The author’s portrayal of Tom and Isabel’s love is tender, deeply romantic, and almost magical; and the excitement they feel about becoming parents rings so true that readers cannot help but swept up in the story. And so, it follows that the gut-wrenching pain they feel at the loss of all three babies is also rings absolutely true for readers, especially their stillborn son.
What follows is a beautifully written story of how Tom and Isabel move through the next five years of their lives. The author chronicles the lies they tell themselves and the world, the secrets they keep, and the rift is causes in their marriage; but also, the intense joy and happiness as their “daughter” Lucy becomes the center of their lives and heals Isabel.
As the years pass, Isabel is convinced of their secret will go undiscovered forever. Tom, however, feels the pressure of their lies and soon things begin to unravel. Told from Isabel and Tom’s point of view for the early chapters; as the story widens we begin to hear from Isabel’s parents, Lucy’s birth mother, and other members of the community and soon we see that Isabel’s and Tom’s decision ripples outward and impacts so, so many lives.