The miraculous arrival of a child in the life of a barren couple delivers profound love but also the seeds of destruction.
Moral dilemmas don’t come more exquisite than the one around which Australian novelist Stedman constructs her debut. Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia emotionally scarred after distinguished service in World War I, so the solitary work of a lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock is attractive. Unexpectedly, Tom finds a partner on the mainland, Isabel; they marry and hope to start a family. But Isabel suffers miscarriages then loses a premature baby. Two weeks after that last catastrophe, a dinghy washes ashore containing a man’s body and a crying infant. Isabel wants to keep the child, which she sees as a gift from God; Tom wants to act correctly and tell the authorities. But Isabel’s joy in the baby is so immense and the prospect of giving her up so destructive, that Tom gives way. Years later, on a rare visit to the mainland, the couple learns about Hannah Roennfeldt, who lost her husband and baby at sea. Now guilt eats away at Tom, and when the truth does emerge, he takes the blame, leading to more moral self-examination and a cliffhanging conclusion.
A polished, cleverly constructed and very precisely calculated first novel.