Book Review

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Historical Novel Set in the Remote Wilds of Australia

A B O U T THE B O O Kbook-the-light-between-oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman

Publisher:  Scribner

Source: Purchase

Publication Date: 2012

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Genre: Fiction; Historical Fiction

Rating: ★★★ ½

REVIEW | Tom Sherbourne is a loner. He may have come through the war physically intact, but emotionally, it’s a part of his life he closes off. As the new light keeper on Janus Island, Tom welcomes the solitude. But while on shore leave, he meets Isabel. A beautiful girl full of life and love, she makes an impression on Tom, and he on her. So much is their first meeting impressed on her that during one of his rare shore leaves, she proposes they marry. When time doesn’t waver her affection, the pair marries and move to the island, where they happily begin their life. But the future suffers one too many losses until a baby, adrift in a boat, arrives on Janus, and brings with her healing, hope and heartbreak.

Reading this book is sure to evoke a cacophony of emotions, bundled with confusion. This book is like a contradiction of the depth of sorrow, unbridled joy, and the choices we make while influenced by these emotions. Speaking only for myself, I don’t think this book is my cup of tea. That said, I understand why this novel received so many prestigious endorsements. The reasons it’s not my kind of read would organize a list, but the primary of which is the writing style. While the prose is nothing to diminish, it was the style the book is constructed from that put me off.

Scars are just another kind of memory.” – The Light Between Oceans

The book backpedals from its present timeline a few too many times, a ploy which never ceased to jerk me out of the story (usually just when I’ve adjusted to the present pace). This is made all the harder since I didn’t feel like I learned a great deal in these treks into the past. Once it does return to the present, there continues to be several instances of past history revisited. While the bittersweet notions and consequences that stem from them are the result of character’s choices, the sting is still that.

Despite this, I do admire (as I mention above) Stedman’s prose. It’s anything but unpleasant. The easy way in in which she uses words to string the story together makes for easy reading, and I admire how she give context to things. (The way she explains a feeling or likens something to a “thing” is to be applauded.) The setting is also a pro. I don’t read many books set outside the U.S (not because I don’t want to, my genres just don’t go this route), so reading about the wilds of Australia is enchanting.

Sympathy will be a common feeling as you read this book. The characters make choices that assist in forever changing lives, both for the better and worse. Despite this, no one is “bad,” and while I feel like the story arrives full circle in the end, it’s a bittersweet one. It may be done in an unsuspecting, quiet way, but The Light Between Oceans tugs at our heartstrings, and leaves everyone in a state of discord.  Some of the emotions are stifled because there isn’t real forgiveness by the time the book ends, and if nothing else were, that alone may leave many a reader feeling a sense of profound loss.

Content: there are instances of profanity (including an f-word), and comments about a married couple “making love.”

Synopsis: 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, 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, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and 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. – Goodreads


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