Friday, May 30, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman


The Light Between Oceans
by M.L. Stedman
Scribner, 2013 paperback
362 pages
source: purchased

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

My thoughts:
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.

My rating:

36 comments:

  1. I kind of wish I had a book club that forced me to read this. The mixed reviews have kept me from getting to it, but yours makes it sound pretty compelling!

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    1. Jill - I'm a little surprised you don't have a book club, but think you should go ahead and read it any way. If you get pst the slow start, it's a wonderful book.

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  2. I liked this book, but not as much as you did. I agree it would be great for book group discussion, though.

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    1. Sam - I'm so sorry I missed that meeting! Sounds like it was one of the most intense discussions we've had in a long time

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  3. I thought it was ok. Did you hear they're turning it into a movie

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    1. Go Book Yourself - No, I didn't know that! There is so much possibility there... I hope they can do justice to the book.

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  4. It was a very difficult read. I kept trying to justifying their decision which in my heart I knew was wrong. The writing was so beautiful too. That last line. Gosh.

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    1. Ti- The writing was so beautiful!! I tried hard to justify their choice and unfortunately I had no trouble identifying with Isabel's position, but I still couldn't quite get there. Oh, that last line...

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  5. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I loved it as well. I love the quotes you included in your review.

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    1. Pat - I had twice as many quotes I could have included... such wonderful writing!

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  6. So many people have recommended this book, but I keep not picking it up because the summary just doesn't grab me. Sounds like it may be one of those that there is a reason everyone loves this book in spite of the summary?!

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    1. Sarah - The writing is a big draw with this book and if you can get past the slow start, I think you would enjoy it.

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  7. Also - I love, love your first quote about the ocean…it's so true!

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    1. Sarah - I had a hard time choosing those three quotes.... must have bookmarked ten times as many!

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  8. We read this one for book club...except it was just me and another gal who were able to attend the meeting. We did indeed have a great time discussing the characters and their motivations--so many complex things going on in this book! Glad you enjoyed it JoAnn!

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    1. Trish - With my (ancient) obstetric history, it's hard not to identify with Isabel, but Tom seemed to be the voice of reason much of the time. Such a good book!

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  9. I pooped out on this one because I had to miss the book club meeting where we were supposed to discuss it (waves at Trish up there!). I'm glad you loved it. That makes me want to dive back in.

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    1. Andi - I'm not surprised to hear anyone pooped out on this - it takes SO long to get involved in the the story! Hope you decide to go back to it at some point.

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  10. I loved this too, and I can see that it would be great for a book club. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it too.

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    1. Jane - I really wish I had been there for the discussion... sounds like it was pretty lively!

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  11. It's been on my list for a while, too! I'll look forward to it even more now!

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    1. Audrey - Beware the slow start, but otherwise it's a great book with beautiful writing.

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  12. I read this one as well and really liked it . Initially I wasn't sure it was for me, but glad i ended up liking it so much.

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    1. Diane - If readers can get past the slow start, I'll bet most will end up enjoying it as much as I did.

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  13. My book group chose this last year, but the month we chose it there were no surrounding libraries that had copies available so we picked something else. A few of the members went on to read it on their own or I would definitely put it back in rotation. I think it has been an extremely popular book group choice!

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    1. Anbolyn - This is such an excellent discussion book. I hope you decide to put it back in the rotation!

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  14. It's been on my radar for some time. Now I really have to read it. Excellent review and I can't wait to see what that 'last line' says, Ti!

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    1. Peggy Ann - The slow start is the only negative here, but the beautiful writing will keep you interested.

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  15. I have this on deck to listen to on audio - as soon as I finish An Echo in the Bone. Since that one is 40 discs long, it might be a while!

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    1. Carrie - 40 discs??? That will certainly keep you busy for a while ;-)

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  16. Yes!! The writing was my favorite part! I just reread all of the quotes you posted and it makes me want to reread the whole book just for the writing. I really loved this one. I wasn't super invested in the characters at first, but ended up getting very emotional. The writing is amazing. That's what I talk about whenever I recommend this to people :)

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    1. Kelly - This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful writing I've read this year! It took me a long time to get invested in the story, too, but I didn't mind because the writing was just so gorgeous.

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  17. I have this one on my bookshelf so I'm glad to read that the writing is really good. I haven't yet had a chance to look at it, but hoping to bump it up soon.

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    1. Athira - The writing is this books greatest strength. I will definitely read whatever M.L. Stedman writes next!

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  18. Oh, crud. I just wrote a long comment and I think it was eaten by the blogging monsters. I'll try again. Please delete this one, if my other shows up. :)

    I loved this book when I read it over a year ago. (I was actually stunned to see it'd been over a year! I would have guessed 6 months, maybe. Not 14! Honestly, where do the days go?) Anyhow, I loved this, giving it a 5/5. You shared a couple of the same passages I quoted about life on an island. Such good writing! I can't wait to see what Stedman writes next, can't you?

    My community has nominated The Light Between Oceans for its One Book, One Lincoln selection for 2014. The other two finalists are The President's Club and The Shadow of the Wind. I don't usually participate in any of the events around these annual book choices, but I do hope Stedman's book is selected. I'll have a much easier time recommending it over The Shadow of the Wind!

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    1. Les - I left this book in Florida for my FIL to read (he really liked it too), but first copied several quotes for my review. Thought it was funny when I lost the paper and thought I could probably just go check your review because we often highlight the same passages. My notes eventually turned up ;-)

      This would be a great selection for One Book, One Lincoln! Keeping my fingers crossed for you that it gets selected.

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