on August 5, 2012
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"The Light Between Oceans" is not an easy book to review....the story is unique and one wouldn't want to give away any part of the plot line. M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia, her discriptions of the coast of Australia are beautifully rendered. The beginning of the book takes place on an island off of the coast of mainland Australia. Stedman does an excellent job of setting us in a remote spot. She also draws her characters so well that one finds themselves thinking of them between readings. They and their problems become real...one wants to advise them as to what to do, or warn them of things they shouldn't. This book is engrossing and with it's many plot twists and turns it is always entertaining...doesn't bog down or become predictable. Some of the passages are so profound that I found myself rereading them..... As stated by other reviewers, this is not a "happy" story. But it is a true to life story. The characters are flawed in ways that we all could possibly be .....M. L. Stedman...knows how to render time and place, people and situations with great skill. This is a first novel and I would not hesitate to read the next by this author....simply because I thought this was an excellent effort....we will be reading this for one of my reading groups. I have also recommended it to many of my fellow readers already. I know they will not be disappointed.
Part geography lesson, part historical novel, a bit of a mystery and above all a story of love...love of all types this book has been a joy to read. Greatful for the chance to do so. I am a fan. Read this story.....it is so well crafted, it will not disappoint.
First Line: On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.
Tom Sherbourne has done something that hundreds of thousands of other young men didn't: survive four years on the Western Front. When this World War I veteran returns home to Australia, all he wants to do is to forget, to find a job where he can be of use, and to be left to himself. He takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly a half day's journey from the coast of Western Australia. It is a life of isolation. The supply boat comes four times a year, and shore leave might be granted every other year at best.
To this life, Tom brings a young, vivacious, and loving wife, but years pass, and after two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Tom sees that the wife he loves more than life itself is wasting away before his eyes. One morning while tending those tiny graves, Isabel hears a baby's cry on the wind. It is not her imagination. A boat has washed ashore. Aboard are a dead man and a tiny living baby girl.
No one has taken better care of the Janus Rock Lighthouse than Tom Sherbourne. Everything gleams; every bit of machinery runs smoothly; and his records are meticulous. Tom is an intensely moral man, and he wants to report the man and infant immediately, but Isabel has taken the baby and clings to her like a drowning woman to a life raft. Against his better judgment, the incident is not reported, and Tom and Isabel claim the baby as their own and name her Lucy. For Isabel, life is idyllic for two years. Then leave is granted, and the family of three return to shore where they are reminded that there are other people in the world, and their decision has ruined the life of one of them.
You would never dream that The Light Between Oceans is a debut novel. The isolated setting of Janus Rock is indelibly drawn: the wind, the birds wheeling in the air, the crashing of the waves, the steady brilliance of the light at night. The sights, the scents, the sounds-- they all live in the mind as do the streets and the inhabitants of the small town of Partageuse where Isobel's parents live, and where Tom, Isabel and Lucy spend their infrequent leave.
It's impossible to read this book and not become totally drawn in by the characters: the withdrawn and haunted Tom, the bold and laughing Isabel, and all the people who call Partageuse home. It was also impossible for me to read this book and not to choose sides. One of the major images of the book is this meeting of opposites. Janus Rock stands where the warm Indian and cold Antarctic Oceans meet. It's where the taciturn Tom and the ebullient Isabel live. It's where a brilliant light flashes continuously throughout the dark nights. It's where a bad decision is made for all the right reasons. The town of Partageuse continues the image.
I was completely caught up in Stedman's story. I was staunchly in Tom's camp, and I wanted to shake sense into Isabel, but these are not one-dimensional characters, and as the story progressed, I finally put away my outraged sense of right and wrong and let wave after wave of consequences toss me onto the rocks. All I could do was watch... and feel my heart break for these people.
You won't find any easy answers in The Light Between Oceans, but you will find a beautifully written and sensitively told story about people who make mistakes and learn to live with the aftermath. I highly recommend this book.
Tom Sherbourne has miraculously survived World War I and finds himself in a small town in western Australia seeking work as a lighthouse keeper. A winner of medals of honor, he is no stranger to violence and killing. As he gets his first temporary job, he also meets Isabel, who becomes the love of his life. They begin a romance, marry and move to the isolated lighthouse, Janus, where they hope to start a family.
Sadly, Isabel is unable to bear children. She has two miscarriages and one stillbirth. It is breaking her apart. Two weeks after her stillbirth, a canoe washes ashore at Janus and in it is a dead man and a live baby girl. Tom wants to report the dead man and return the baby but Isabel begs him to keep the child. He gives in to her and this starts a cycle of misery for everyone. They bury the man and keep the baby.
Who is this baby? Does she have a grieving family on the mainland? Who is the dead man and what are the circumstances of his death? What will happen to Isabel and Tom for breaking the law? All of these things are not really examined fully by them as both Tom and Isabel fall completely in love with this child they name Lucy. All that comes with Lucy to identify her is a beautiful silver rattle. There is no other identification.
As the book progresses, the above questions get resolved and a poignant, tragic and miserable future ensues. This is an interesting novel but it felt repetitive at times and I felt like I could predict what was coming. It makes for good reading and I look forward to the author's future works.
on August 2, 2012
M.L. Stedman's book moved me to tears, a feat few authors have achieved. It is beautifully written--and yet fast paced enough so that I didn't want to put it down. I found myself looking forward to returning to it throughout the day.
This is a good old-fashioned novel: plot driven with plenty of twists, well-drawn characters, poetic descriptions and good use of symbolism. Although I have never visited Western Australia, I could envision the places and people depicted in the book.
The Light Between Oceans as staying power--I continue to dwell on it despite the fact that I finished it months ago. It entertains and sustains.
on September 29, 2012
First, I want to say that ML Stedman writes beautifully. I could see myself in the tiny town, and at the light on Janus Island. I could feel Isabel and Tom's joy together before the miscarriages began. However, I felt the mood slide with Tom's anguish and soul searching that began immediately after the boat carrying a dead man and a baby girl land nearby the lighthouse. About 1/3 of the way through I said to my husband, "this book is going to have a very sad ending". I was quite right.
While Stedman makes us ponder choices and their consequences, I found myself in pain. I understand an author wanting readers to feel emotion, but I don't understand why one would want to leak such a bleak and despairing tale on the world. I do not feel enlightened, or that I have understood a moral quandary any better. I just feel terribly sad about what happens to all the main characters, and I don't need fictional sadness in my life.
I gave the book three stars because I think Stedman writes quite well. I would read another book by her, but I would research much more carefully what the plot line was and I would read other readers reviews before I bought the book. In this case, I had bought the book on the basis of one positive review, and I wish I hadn't. I hope the author's next book is a less painful one.
on October 15, 2012
Once in a while you come across a good read, so good that you want to tell all the people you know about it, and "The Light Between Oceans" is one of such. It's a story about a young couple, having moved to the remote light house to start their new lives while the husband working as the keeper. After years of unable to have child of their own, they saved a baby washed ashore one day and somehow decided to keep the baby as their own flesh, thinking they could keep the secret and no one would have to know it. The husband, however, torn between the guilt of his desire of fathering the child and suffering of the baby's real mother, made a decision one day and things have gotten out of hands from that point on. It's a simple plot, predictable in a way, and yet it's written so beautifully and moving that the book is simply unputdownable. A simple story with powerful message, about the decisions one makes in his life, and the ripple effects on others that one can never imagine. In the end, it's all about the choice one makes. The book will make you look at family, relationship, love, and all the other things you take for granted in a whole new different way, and you'll find yourself grateful for all the things that you truly own.
I cried at the end of the book, and couldn't stop myself thinking about it for a while. Such a heartbroken story and yet so true to its heart. I'm so glad I picked up this wonderful read and will highly recommend others to read it.
on September 9, 2012
This is a great debut novel dealing with the question of choices and the consequences of those choices. The setting is the very remote Janus Island off the coast of Australia where Tom Sherbourne is the keeper of the lighthouse in 1926. Having survived World War I, he is happy to spend his life in solitary work, maintaining the lighthouse to guide ships traveling the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean. At least, he is happy until he meets Isabel while on shore leave and nothing is ever the same. They are truly soul mates and destined to be together; so, the vivacious and charming Isabel says goodbye to family and the life she knows to be with Tom in his almost hermit-like existence. After two miscarriages and a traumatic still birth, Isabel is a changed and deeply grieving person. Then, one day, a boat runs ashore on their island. Inside are a dead man and a screaming baby. It is here that choices begin to be made, choices that will affect everyone and change lives forever.
How the man and the baby came to be in the boat, the life they left behind, the life that the baby will renew in Isabel are all told in beautiful prose that speaks to the heart of the mother/child bond. This is a tragic story because even the best of choices often brings heartbreak to others. And the heartbreak in this novel is palatable. The reader will be torn between what is right and what is wrong and be sympathetic to all the characters as they fight each other. If ever it can be said there is no right or wrong answer, then truly that applies to this story.
Heart wrenching and truly sad, yet uplifting and truly joyful, this is a book for all who enjoy stories of love and heartbreak, tragedy and redemption.
on July 18, 2012
This book purports to be all about choices, but there was also something very fatalistic about it to me. There's something about inevitable tragedies that are beyond frustrating and yet completely irresistible all at the same time. So many small (or not so small) choices that ultimately bring utter heartbreak for everyone involved, yet no matter how you work the issue over in your head, there's really no other way it could have worked out. M. L. Stedman has conjured up a perfect illustration of this conundrum in "The Light Between Oceans", a beautifully written, atmospheric and complex rumination on loyalty, love and morality.
The setting of the novel is a remote island off the coast of Australia with a population of two - husband and wife Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, who care for the lighthouse. Despite the isolation, newlyweds Tom and Isabel love each other and have an idealistic vision of their future, filled, inevitably, with a house full of children running around. When that dream is tragically shattered over and over again, in a place where they have no one but each other, it's not hard to imagine and even sympathize with Isabel's state of mind as she decides to keep the apparent miracle sent to them. At the same time, Tom's by-the-books sense of duty is equally as justifiable, as is his ultimate choice to stand by his wife. I grew so attached to Tom and Isabel that I could feel myself rooting for them to keep their secret forever and be happy with Lucy, though that's perhaps not the morally correct thing to do, and inevitably, it's not their fate.
Tom and Isabel believe, or perhaps try to convince themselves, that because the baby's father died at sea, her mother must have too. Indeed, this outcome would have been the only way for everyone involved to get everything they want, so of course it's not the case. I found it more difficult to connect to Hannah, the baby's birth mother, perhaps because she had been introduced much later than Tom and Isabel and she, too, makes choices that are seemingly incomprehensible. And if you think the only choice revolves around what to do with baby Lucy, you are in for huge surprises and twists, like I was, as things get impossibly messier when that secret begins to unravel.
Stedman's writing is beautiful, descriptive and engrossing, and the book was read in just a few hours. If I had any small issue with the book it would be that it seemed to get a bit redundant in the middle section, particularly with Tom grappling over his loyalty to his wife and his sense of morality. It seemed his confusion didn't evolve much, and he just ended up going in circles for a long while. But perhaps even that was intentional, as the reader grows more frustrated with Tom's dilemma, yet can offer no easy way out. "The Light Between Oceans" is a fantastic debut novel, with an ending that left me in tears and thought-provoking Big Questions that should keep readers thinking and discussing long after the book is put down.
on August 21, 2012
The first part of the book was enjoyable to read, but as the plot begins to thicken and the characters lives unravel, it becomes utterly dark and depressing. I was waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, but it didn't really arrive there. It leaves the reader in a tragic state of hopelessness at the end, with even the main character admitting that the story will soon be forgotten by everyone and life will go on.
on October 18, 2013
This novel was really hard to love. It was hard to get in to and it was hard to care about the characters. While Stedman pulls at all of the right heart strings to have a large fan following, ultimately the story doesn't stand up on it's own.
The magnitude and multitude of the "tragic" events in the story almost negate any sort of empathy the reader may have. I stopped believing in the story after the 15th tragedy. And the worst part was, most of the unfortunate circumstances were brought on by the character's own bad decisions. By the end of the novel, I was completely disgusted with both protagonists. It's hard to desire a happy ending for people you don't like at all. And don't even get me started on the ending. It was like the one last punch on the author's part to move the reader to tears. Enough with the maudlin rhetoric already.
The not so subtle foreshadowing was also a huge drawback in my opinion. From the minute Isabel finds the baby Tom has a "bad feeling." We are warned over and over again that this won't turn out well. First of all, that's not a surprise, and second of all, let the reader be smart enough to watch it unfold without all of the unnecessary pre-commentary.
This book came to me highly recommended and I must say I was thoroughly disappointed. The writing was not excellent (tense shifting all over the place) and the story was just not plausible. A decent emotional mindless read but certainly not a quality piece of work.