Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans…

Book Description:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

 

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My Thoughts:

Right from the first page through to the last, The Light Between Oceans grabbed a hold of me and refused to let go. It’s one of those novels that you can safely label as ‘stunning’ and recommend to anyone and everyone as a great read. The story is so well developed, showcasing life in Australia during the post war years in a realistic manner. I particularly enjoyed all of the information about lighthouses and lighthouse keeping in Australia during the 1920s. Having grown up on the East Coast, I don’t know all that much about the history of Western Australia. It’s hard to imagine the isolation, the months of not seeing a single other soul, those raging seas between the island and the mainland, a seemingly impenetrable barrier. Stedman did an excellent job of sprinkling history throughout the narrative, it was always engaging and informative, the balance between historical fact and the telling of the story perfectly managed.

 

The Light Between Oceans is one of those stories that perfects the whole, ‘what would I have done differently’ notion. It stays in your mind when you need to put it down and it haunts you once you’ve finished. To say I cried would be an understatement; bawled at the end is probably a more apt description! But it would be impossible not to feel affected by this story. I was quite overcome as I neared the ending and at one stage I had to put the book down and just cry for a while. I’ve only ever had this happen to me with a handful of books. I gifted a copy of The Light Between Oceans to my sister for Christmas and she read it on an international flight. It amused me to hear after that an air hostess commented on the book as she passed by, saying to my sister how much she had loved it. Five minutes later, the air hostess passed by again and discreetly placed some tissues onto my sister’s tray table – in anticipation of the tears she expected were on their way. It was a good move, because like me, my sister broke down at about the same place within the novel and needed to compose herself before continuing to read on. That’s a special kind of talent as an author, to convey so much through words, to invoke so much emotion in your readers. I’m more than a little bit in awe of M.L.Stedman and look forward to reading more from her.

 

If I have any criticism at all to make, it’s that the character of Isabel was under represented. I feel that as a main character, she should have had as much page space as Tom. There were times when I really wanted to know how she was feeling, yet all I got were Tom’s perceptions of her and for me that wasn’t enough. We got small bits and pieces of the story from her perspective, more towards the end than in the first half, but character representation was definitely weighted towards Tom, and while Tom was a fine character, the story was not just his alone. There was so much to Isabel, so much pain and love, so much confusion and angst. I loved her, could totally understand her drive and desperation. And I also loved how much Tom loved her – deep and abiding; he would, and did, do anything for her, even at the expense of his own morality. Such devotion surely secures a place for The Light Between Oceans on a list of greatest love stories of all time.

 

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Not long after reading this novel, the movie adaptation was released. Even though movie adaptations hardly ever stand up to the books they are based on, the trailer for The Light Between Oceans looked very promising. To my satisfaction, the movie held its own. Fraught with emotion, well cast, beautiful cinematography; it’s definitely a movie to make time to watch, whether you’ve read the novel or not – although you really should read the novel as well!

 

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