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February 2013 travel news 67
The Light Between Oceans
by M.L. Stedman
December 1918 sees war veteran Tom
Sherborne return to Australia, seeking
work on a remote island lighthouse, a
position requiring high standards in work
commitment and character which he feels
he can match. Eight years later Tom and
his wife Isabel fnd a boat washed up on
their island shore. In it is a dead man and
a live baby.
Between 1918 and 1926 Tom has met
and married Isabel, who lives in Port
Parlageuse, the mainland base for the
lighthouse on Janus Rock which serves
the Indian and the Great Southern Oceans.
Despite Tom's worries because they are
Janus's only inhabitants, Isabel loves life
on this remote spot. They are completely
happy apart from Isabel's heartbreaking
miscarriages. It is just after the third one
that they discover the boat and the baby.
What to do with the living and the dead?
Their decision evokes the temptations
involving Eve, the serpent and the apple.
The story is beautifully and sensitively
told, although one must remember
throughout that we are reading about
almost a hundred years ago when moral
codes were much more defnitive, and
undistorted by psychiatrics. Nonetheless
one instinctively judges Tom and Isabel,
he the war veteran who has come through
the awfulness of the Great War unscathed:
having seen horrors hitherto unimagined,
he still suffers from the not uncommon
guilt because he has survived while so
many others, including Isabel's brothers,
have not. Isabel's moral judgement too is
unbalanced, but for a different reason: her
confusion lies in equating what she wants
with what she thinks is morally justifable.
Character portrayal is excellent and brings
to life the 1920s small town social life
with its gossip, over-ambitious policemen,
together with the good people, some
of whom understand the Sherbournes
better than they understand themselves.
With Tom and Isabel we could frequently
wring their necks, but at the same time we
empathise with their seemingly insoluble
predicament. They come over as real
people, with decisions to make that would
have taxed any one of us.
Hardly surprisingly, Stedman’s frst novel
has already been selected for a flm. The
originality of the story will also fulfl a fruitful
role as a choice for book groups -- much to
discuss and many almost insurmountable
questions over which to argue. Judge for
yourself; just read it. Once you start, it's
diffcult to stop.
by Stephen Alford
Ever thought history a dull subject? Think
again: read 'The Watchers'. It describes
Queen Elizabeth I's secret service, and
Alford could well be writing about today,
complete with spies, double agents,
codes and code-breakers -- almost
everything other than contemporary hi-
Was this necessary in the sixteenth century
when surely life was less demanding? If we
study the crises with which the 'Watchers'
dealt, England's survival was on high risk.
Elizabeth inherited the throne after her half-
sister Mary's death. The country was far
from united, although there was nationwide
relief that bloody religious persecution
would now cease. Elizabeth's claim itself
was tenuous: she inherited legally, but she
remained Henry VIII's bastard, a Protestant
heretic and a woman.
When it became clear that England would
be Protestant, the danger grew. Both
France and Spain threatened Elizabeth with
intent to 'reconvert'. Additionally there were
English Catholics who could produce strong
claims to England's throne, especially in
the event of Elizabeth's childlessness. Of
these Mary Queen of Scots was the most
popular, and there were as many as four
plots to displace Elizabeth in Mary's favour.
The fnal one caused Mary’s execution in
1587 on the eve of the Spanish Armada –
no coincidence that Mary had to die then.
Elizabeth's most loyal Privy Councillor
was her secretary Robert Cecil who
became Lord Burghley, together with
Cecil's accomplice Francis Walsingham,
and subsequently Cecil's own son. Their
deviousness and diligence knew no limits:
Walsingham particularly was not averse
to a bit of mediaeval-style torture when
he felt it was required. Their spy networks
operated throughout Spain, France, the
Low Countries, even to the Vatican with
astounding sophistication. On the home
front they fought an invasion of spies
and Catholic clergy, usually creatures of
their foreign overlords seeking to replace
Elizabeth with the Scots Queen.
Although Elizabeth's reign is remembered
as a golden age, 'Merrie England' had
its dark side. This is the story that Alford
accurately tells to perfection. He has
chosen the material for what amounts to a
thriller and 'The Watchers' certainly reads
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