I read this for one of my book groups, and it is a good choice for a book group discussion, it is full of difficult decisions where you can see more than one side of an argument. It is set in 1920s Western Australia. It is about a couple who are the only inhabitants of an island a hundred miles from the mainland, where the husband works as a lighthouse keeper.
The couple have lost three babies to miscarriage and stillbirth when a boat washes on to the shore of their island containing one dead adult and one living baby. They decide to keep the baby and raise it as their own. This is pretty much the only part of the book where I cannot really see both sides of the argument. We all know that it takes two adults to make one baby and you can’t go around stealing babies just because you are struggling to have one of your own. Stedman does a very good job of providing motivation for why the characters do what they do. But I just can not empathise with stealing a baby. But, anyway, that is what they do and they have to live with it. The husband struggles with their choice a lot more than the wife does, and eventually the situation comes to a head.
I spent the first half of the book wondering what would happen; do they keep the baby or do they own up? That gets resolved, I will not say how, but then there are yet more emotional and moral issues to deal with. It is beautifully done with well developed characters.
There is a point in the book where the real mother of the child reflects on what has been stolen from her, and that is an excellent summary of the book. No matter how long they had stolen the baby for, it was always a crime, because you can never get back time with a loved one that has been lost, and this is perhaps even more true of a baby in it’s first months or years of life. This couple did a terrible thing but this book is about forgiveness, and set against the aftermath of the First World War, when everyone had lost something or someone (or several someones) this is a very poignant message.