A remote island off the coast of Tasmania, where you live with your parents after being hauled away from your city, your school and your friends, seems an unlikely place to find a soulmate – but it’s on such an island that sixteen-year-old Stephanie has a chance encounter with young crayfisherman, Tom Forrest, and in some ways an unbreakable bond is formed.
Wildlight by Robyn Mundy tells the story of Stephanie West and her parents, James and Gretchen, as they endeavour to cope with the recent death of Stephanie’s brother, Callam. Deciding that the best option for Gretchen is a sea change, the family moves from Sydney to occupy the role of caretakers on Maatsuyker Island, off the south coast of Tasmania, where Gretchen’s father worked as a lighthouse keeper years before. For Gretchen it is a return to her childhood home.
The initial return to Gretchen’s beloved sanctuary is tarnished by the reality that nothing stays the same, and picture-perfect memories of her childhood begin to falter as darker secrets of the family’s past are uncovered. For Stephanie and James the island offers a harsh welcome too, with little comfort; however, as months go by, the daily routine on the island, and the island itself, becomes a refuge for Stephanie. The Wests begin to face their memories of Callam and within the solitude of the landscape they summon the strength to acknowledge the past and think about the future.
Only the island itself has stayed steadfast while the people and families have come and gone, which is a reoccurring theme. Mundy paints vivid pictures of the grassy, rugged island teeming with birds, gusty winds and the moody ocean below. By the end of the book there’s a sense that Maatsuyker Island is no longer a foreboding place but a place of rest, recuperation, beauty and life.
Amidst their time on the island, Stephanie’s relationship with Tom begins as a welcome distraction. As their attraction grows Stephanie realises Tom has his own family issues and nothing is ever simple. There was danger of the narrative becoming clichéd, like so many romantic tales that are written along of the lines of boy leaves home, girl knocks on door seconds too late, boy forgets something and in the final scene there’s a predictable reunion – the audience can rest easy. However, refreshingly, Mundy never quite allows such clean predictability and the story is richer for it.
Wildlight could easily be devoured in a weekend and leaves one with a longing to escape the city and explore Australia’s natural wilderness. It is a beautifully crafted story about love, human personas, remembering the past, and finding peace.
Jessica Anscombe is a library officer in Sydney with a passion for reading and writing. She is currently undertaking a Masters of Information Studies and developing her own blog.