This cleverly titled novel refers not only to the main setting, a lighthouse on a rocky island at the junction of the Southern and Indian Oceans, but also the tides of fate and destiny which chase decisions made for the best reasons. People’s lives are tossed hither and thither like the waves surrounding the island and crashing onto the rocks, sometimes to their doom.
A man, escaping from himself as much as from his experiences in World War 1, takes up a position as a lighthouse keeper. He finds solace in the communion with the wind, waves and seabirds, and the discipline of keeping the light burning, whatever the weather and whatever cost to himself. He attracts a wife from the nearest community, and after heartbreaking attempts to start a family, they appear blessed by the arrival of a baby, cast adrift in a dinghy, landing on their shores. What follows is a tale of joy in their isolation and the stresses of meeting reality on their occasional shore-leave.
What is right? This is the fundamental issue through this book. I can imagine that my bookclub will have fascinating discussions on the tale. There are many shades of right – what actions are right for whom? What is the difference between law and justice? Can a state uphold natural law? When are things best left alone? What should one do with one’s conscience? How can one atone for the past? M L Stedman is to be commended for weaving an enthralling tale through these issues, with twists and turns that simply add to the complexity as different characters change their minds, influenced by others in the community, and then rethinking themselves in the middle of the night. I also adored her descriptive powers for the rock, Janus Island, and the seas that it entwines about it. Wilderness is not easy to describe, and her subtle touch was much appreciated, even by one who has only experienced isolated rocks on day trips.
I was tempted to give it five stars, but I was disappointed by the ending. It could have done without the rider, set twenty years later, which was trite – beautifully told, but pretty much a cliche.
I would recommend it for readers of all ages, including older teenagers, especially regarding the dilemmas life throws at us.
I got this book from Norfolk Libraries for reading with my BookClub