The Light Between Oceans
by M.L. Stedman
Scribner, 2013 paperback
Summary (from goodreads):
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.
The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel
The Light Between Oceans had been on my wish list for quite some time, so I was very glad when my book club decided to read it. Unfortunately the meeting was help when we were in Florida, but by all accounts the discussion was far-reaching and lively and the book was universally loved. (Note to self: look for a library book club if I'm in Florida next winter)
I liked this book from the opening paragraph. Initially, it was the writing that stood out. The physical description of the lighthouse was fascinating and in my mind I could see the stark beauty of the landscape. Next I became impressed with the characters - so human as they struggled to make difficult decisions that would eventually impact many lives. Finally, and this took a little longer, I got involved with the story. The pace is quite slow at first, perhaps a little too slow, and although that's usually of minor importance to me, it is my one criticism of this novel.
A growing sense of dread and unease was palpable as the story unfolded. Decisions were made, and guilt began to eat away at Tom... reminiscent of scenes from Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. Yet I could also relate to Isabel in a very personal manner. Her sorrows were my sorrows. Relationships become strained as more people get caught up in the web of deceit. I loved this book!
Book clubs will have a field day discussing these characters, their motivation, choices, and ramifications.
M.L. Stedman is definitely an author to watch.
Some Favorite Quotes:
There are times when the ocean is not the ocean - not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only Gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. (page 71)
The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm - the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights, you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you're wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind. (page 110)
There had never been any guarantee that conception would lead to a live birth, or that birth would lead to a life of any great length. Nature allowed only the fit and the lucky to share this paradise-in-the-making. Look inside the cover of any family Bible and you'd see the facts. The graveyards,too, told the story of babies whose voices, because of a snakebite or a fever or a fall from a wagon, had finally succumbed to their mothers' beseeching to "hush, hush little one." The surviving children got used to the new way of setting the table with one place fewer, just as they grew accustomed to squishing along the bench when another sibling arrived. Like the wheat fields where more grain is sown than can ripen, God seemed to sprinkle extra children about, and harvest them according to some indecipherable, divine calendar. (page 18)Bottom line:
The Light Between Oceans is a book you can really sink your teeth into... a must read for book clubs.