09 April 2012

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

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman book cover
* From publisher for review*

I finished reading M. L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans last night, and I now understand why it was the subject of a bidding war and I am certain it is destined to become a huge bestseller in the months to come.

Tom Sherbourne returns from World War I with his limbs intact but carrying psychological scars and seeks to get as far away from people as possible.  He seeks refuge on Janus Rock as a Lighthouse Keeper, where the regulations and routine of lighting up, maintaining the light and recording everything that happens in the log book, calm him.

Tom meets Isabel at Point Partageuse and they soon marry. Izzy joins him on Janus Rock for three years at a time, and they have no contact from the outside world except for the quarterly visits from Bluey and Ralph on the supply boat.

Shortly after a miscarriage, a small row boat washes ashore with a man and baby onboard.  Unfortunately the man is dead but miraculously the baby is still alive.  Did God answer their prayers for a baby?  Should they report it?  What if they disagree?  Tom and Izzy's actions that follow the surprise discovery ultimately change the course of their lives forever.

It's easy to judge what you would do in such a situation, but in reading The Light Between Oceans it was painful to see the chain of events unfold and the toll on their relationship.  Sometimes there is no right or wrong, and in the end there are no winners.

This was an incredibly moving story.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about what it was like to be a Lighthouse Keeper in Australia during this period.  The isolation and the weather were beautifully captured and written however didn't feature so much as to become tiresome for the reader.  I loved the references to the night sky and Tom's love of astronomy in addition to Tom's - and the fellow lighthouse keepers' - love for the light.  A life 'on the lights' was something I knew nothing about prior to picking up this book and I feel my life is richer for having read about this aspect of our history.

Born and raised in Western Australia, Stedman now lives in London, however there's no doubting she's an Aussie.  She has captured the Australian lingo of the period exceptionally well, and I truly felt transported back in time with words like: 'girlie', 'humdinger' and 'stepping out.'

I was captivated and swept away by Stedman's writing style, and I'd like to share my favourite section from The Light Between Oceans.  It is an extract from Page 24, and in the lead up to this section the author is writing about the death of children:

"The town cemetery had always recorded this truthfully, and its headstones, some lolling like loose, grimy teeth, told frankly the stories of lives taken early by influenza and drownings, by timber whims and even lightning strikes.  But in 1915, it began to lie.  Boys and men from across the district were dying by the score, yet the graveyards said nothing."
I've been thinking about these words every day since I read them; that the graveyards said nothing.  I found this incredibly moving and poignant and just one example of the author's powerful writing style.

I couldn't recommend M. L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans - named so because the Janus lighthouse overlooks the merging of two oceans - more highly.

My rating = *****

Would you like to comment?

  1. This book sounds really interesting. Particularly with Anzac Day having just passed us by for another year. I've been reading Peter Fitzsimons' The Ballad of Les Darcy. I really like the transition that seemed to happen to Australia before and after World War I.

  2. Thanks Jacqui, it's an interesting period in Australia's history. Let me know if you read it, I'd like to know what you think. It was discussed last night on First Tuesday Book Club and they all agreed it will be a bestseller, but not everyone enjoyed it.

    I haven't read The Ballad of Les Darcy but it's hard not to like Peter Fitzsimons.

  3. I have this book in my wishlist at my book club online. It sounds like a fascinating read.

  4. Great to hear, I hope you get to read it soon. It would be interesting to hear it discussed at a book club.


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