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

Title: The Light Between Oceans

Author: M.L Stedman

Published: Random House March 2012

Synopsis: This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same … 1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads. Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds .. Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from April 12 to 13, 2012 – I own a copy {Courtesy The Circle, Channel 10}

My Thoughts:

The Light Between Oceans is a compelling debut from Australian born author M.L. (Margot) Stedman. Set on a tiny island off the coast of Western Australia, where the the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, this novel explores the haunting consequences of love and desire. Tom Sherbourne is the lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, a position that has afforded him some measure of peace after the horrors of World War One. During his infrequent visits to the mainland at Port Partageuse, he develops a relationship with the spirited Isabel Graysmark whom he eventually marries and the two create a life together on Rock. Their bliss is marred only by Isabel’s repeated miscarriages so when a boat drifts ashore carrying a dead man and squalling infant girl, Isabel convinces Tom that they have been granted a gift. Lucy becomes the light of their lives but Tom’s unease with the situation never dissipates and when he learns the devastating truth he is torn between right and wrong, guilt and innocence, love and duty.

With stunning sensitivity, Stedman explores the grey, murky waters between the absolutes of right and wrong. Decisions made with good intentions, with love, prove ultimately to have consequences that cause irreparable harm. A heartbreaking tale that has strong emotional impact I found myself equally torn as the story unfolds, my sympathies lay with all the protagonists, two grieving women and a man who wants to do right by both of them. Joy is often juxtaposed by a sense of dread and tension seeps from pages.

Tom is a complex man, shaped by tragedy and war, he clings to the ideals of love, honour and duty. He knows how the lines between right and wrong can blur given circumstances and strives to do the right thing always. In this instance he fulfils his obligation to his wife, to love and honour her, by allowing himself to be persuaded to keep the child. When he discovers the consequences of that decision he is torn when honour and duty call for the child to be returned to the mother who still grieves her loss. I admired Tom for many reasons, not the least being his genuine emotional turmoil and strength of character.
Isabel is quite young when she marries Tom and moves to the Rock. She is feisty and headstrong but has a naivete and vulnerability that is endearing. I could not help but sympathise with her as she mourned her lost children, having experienced several miscarriages myself, and identified with her joy over the miraculous gift of Lucy. When Isabel’s world falls apart I was horribly torn for Hannah is equally, perhaps even more, as deserving of sympathy. Isabel’s violent reaction to Tom is shocking, if understandable and her final choice is a brave, if heart rending one.
It is rare that young children have well formed character in novels but Stedman achieves this in The Light Between Oceans. Lucy is as skillfully created and whole as the adult protagonists.

Stedman captures the unique atmosphere of time and place. Set in the aftermath of World War One her characters are reeling from the losses of the war. In the tiny town of Port Partaguese many of the boys and men who went to fight never returned and those that did, were forever changed. Isabel grieved her adored brothers and her miscarriages compound her sense of loss. She senses what proves to be true, that a grandchild will help heal her own parents broken hearts. For Tom, the memories of war, of death and destruction, are soothed by life on Janus Rock and Isabel’s love, but are never far from his mind.
The author creates a spectacular atmosphere on Janus Rock, the tiny  island that houses the lighthouse cared for by Tom and Isabel. The isolated splendour of the place is vividly described but Janus Rock is both an idyllic haven and a lonely outcrop. Tom and Isabel have contact with the outside world only once every three months and can return to mainland only once every few years.

The Light Between Oceans is a stunning novel, evocative and lyrical. Rich with emotion, extraordinary characters and story, this is a wonderful read, I happily recommend.

Available To Purchase

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27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marg
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 16:25:26

    I have heard a lot of good things about this book. We were talking to one of the publisher’s account managers the other night at an event and he was talking about how popular this book has been!


  2. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 17:16:54

    This sounds like a ‘must read’ novel, with a real message and true to life, in-depth characters. Congratulations to M.L. Stedman as author, and Shelleyrae for her outstanding review.


  3. mareelouise
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 17:19:42

    I read about this book in The Age on the weekend. Almost cursing as I have so much on my to read list, but this sounds so great! You’ve sold me. I’m so excited about some of the female débutantes we have in Australia at the moment- writing such compelling work! Its fantastic.
    Thanks for the review!


    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Apr 16, 2012 @ 17:31:39

      I hadn’t even heard a whisper about it until it appeared in my mailbox but its had a lot of attention in the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy it if you get the chance!


  4. Danielle
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 17:38:31

    Oh! I saw this one reviewed in The Age the other day.
    Now I am intrigued…

    Fantastic review, as always :)


  5. Leeswammes
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 18:16:38

    Sounds as good as I thought it would be. Except for one thing… this business with the miscarriages, personally, I can’t stand it when too much is made of it – it’s personal, I know. I had a few miscarriages (before I had my boys) and I just accepted it and got on with life (but I know others have a more difficult time with it). On the other hand, it seems that she can’t have children at all and that is a different story, of course, and a different kind of grief.

    I’ll put this on my wishlist and expect to like it! Thanks for the great review.


    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Apr 17, 2012 @ 21:27:39

      I think that her repeated miscarriages (one at 7 months so more properly a stillbirth) helps to explain the fierce attachment she forms to Lucy, Judith so it does play a important part in the narrative


  6. Kylie
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 22:18:42

    The more I read about this the further up my to read list it goes.


  7. Sue Gerth
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 05:41:02

    That book looks great! I seem to be getting into an ocean reading kick lately. Have a great day.


  8. Sam (Tiny Library)
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 05:54:24

    This was already on my wishlist, but you’ve made me want to read it even more!


  9. Cat
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 06:23:02

    Definitely sounds like one for my reading list. Thanks for a great review.


  10. Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 16:02:07

    This sounds like a very touching and meaningful read. Some of the issues seem a bit heavy but they are the type of issues that I feel like anyone can relate to. Fab review!


  11. Denise Imwold
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 11:32:22

    It sounds like a compelling book, Shelleyrae. I’ll have to add it to my list.


  12. Joann
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 10:32:38

    This sounds like a great book but it looks like it doesn’t come out in the US until August. It is only available for pre-order. Also, I like the book cover better that you show than what it looks like we will be able to order…I know that shouldn’t matter but one of the reasons I can’t switch to an e-reader is because I am in love with the actual books!


  13. Trackback: Book Review - The Light Between Oceans | Lighthouse Memories
  14. Nose in a book
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 06:55:55

    I just finished reading this today. I agree that potentially contentious issues are sensitively handled but I wasn’t emotionally engaged, which is surprising as these are topics that would usually get to me. But the writing is so lyrical that I would still recommend it.


  15. Trackback: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman « Book Monkey
  16. Deschutes River Fishing
    Sep 25, 2013 @ 10:57:49

    An interesting read even though the characters were not lovable to me. However, the book made for a great discussion at book that made us all ponder some heavy questions about love and doing the right thing.


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