Malin’s #CBR5 Review #63: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne was a soldier in Europe during World War I. Deeply affected by his experiences, and the guilt he feels for the lives he took, he signs up for a job as a lighthouse keeper, taking postings at the most remote and lonely lighthouses around Australia. When a posting becomes available on Janus Rock, a place so remote and lonely, other lighthouse keepers have been driven mad, Tom agrees to go, first as a temporary replacement, and later as the official lighthouse keeper. The only human contact is the supply boat that comes every three months.

Tom falls in love with a young woman, Isabel, and despite his initial reservations, marries her and brings her to Janus Rock. To begin with, they are blissfully happy, alone with each other in a place nearly a day’s journey from the coast. After several years, things are more strained. Isabel has miscarried twice, and two weeks after her third pregnancy ended in stillbirth, she first believes herself to be hallucinating, when she hears a baby’s cries on the island. A small boat, with a dead man and a living baby, has washed up on shore. Tom, always meticulous in his record keeping, wants to report the  findings to the authorities right away. Isabel begs him to wait, just a day, so she can spend some time with the baby. Against all his better judgement, Tom agrees, and he’s then persuaded by his desperate grieving wife that they should just bury the dead man, and claim the baby as their own, naming her Lucy. No one knows that Isabel miscarried, they can just pass off the foundling child as their own. More on my blog.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #20: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman for nearly a week trying to wrap my brain around how to express what this novel is, and what my opinions are about it.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention from Valyruh’s review as well as from Goodreads Best of 2012 voting (it won for best Historical Fiction). I waited rather patiently for it to arrive from my library and only started to get truly anxious to read it once I saw Jen K’s five-star review, since she and I agree on many, many books. In numerous ways I agree with her review of the book. But, when I initially finished the book I only gave it four stars as compared to her five.

The titular light is Janus, the lighthouse located on the southwestern coast of Australia sitting between the Indian and Southern oceans. It is on this small island that the reader learns the tale of Tom Sherbourne and his wife, Isabel. Tom returns from the Great War a broken man, withdrawing from society. He finds refuge working on the lights, having minute but immeasurably important tasks which physically remove him from civilization. It is on his way to Janus to serve as a relief keeper that Tom meets Isabel and their paths become intertwined.  Isabel brings Tom out of his shell and they build a life together on Janus, but after suffering a series of miscarriages, Isabel’s grief and the arrival of a rowboat with a dead man and an infant, Tom makes a decision for the sake of his wife that is morally and ethicaly suspect.

This is Stedman’s debut novel and it is exquisitely delivered. The descriptive language and vacillation between third person and first person storytelling make the story simultaneously intimate and overarching. At its center this is a novel about the moral and ethical boundaries we will bend for love, and what it means to create a family, and how families are both incredibly fragile and strong beyond measure. In her review Valyruh points out that “As many reviewers have commented, this is a sad tale. But it is a riveting one, forcing us to reflect on the morally ambiguous choices good people–like ourselves–make every day without thought of the consequences. Stedman’s writing is compelling, her settings gorgeously described, and her characters have histories and embody all the strengths and weaknesses, beauty and ugliness of everyman.” The novel is inherently sad, and that is perhaps my greatest complaint against it. There is just so much pain, but none of it is blown beyond the proportions of the plot and all of the decisions and actions of the characters fit into who they are. The reader is never left to question why they do what they do, only to fear for what comes next.

The pacing in the novel works especially well, we know from the very beginning the Sherbournes’ big secret, and we spend the rest of the novel tracking how they arrive at that point and how they proceed with their lives. The reader gets swept up like one of Janus’ crashing waves and we see disaster looming on the horizon, waiting for the storm to breach the shore. When it does, the story turns on end. Stedman performs a high wire act of great skill towards the conclusion of the novel, and in the final few chapters gives us a satisfying narrative which was more subtle and certainly more unexpected than I’d dared hoped.

I find for CBR5 the difference between four and five stars to be purely a matter of heart. If I LOVE the book and want to shout that love from the rooftops it gets five stars, if I think it’s fantastic but it doesn’t pull at my heartstrings, or if I don’t find myself aching to push it into the hands of everyone I know then it gets a four star rating. This book had me in LOVE with its characters from the moment go and pulled at every bit of my heart but I’m having a hard time actively inviting anyone else into the heartache this book delivers. Read at your own risk, but know that this is a masterfully crafted novel.

This review is cross-posted.

P.S. In November DreamWorks Studios announced that it has entered into exclusive talks to acquire the feature film rights to The Light Between Oceans.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #49: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I’ve had my eye on this novel since I started seeing it on lists when first released. It finally came out in paperback earlier this month, and I immediately snatched it up, using an upcoming plane trip as justification though I would have bought it regardless. It was an incredibly moving and well written debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what else this author comes up with.
Tom Sherbourne is an Australian World War I vet, and haunted by his experiences, he takes on duties as a light house keeper, a lonely job that gives him time to be alone with his thoughts. Sent on a temporary six months assignment to Janus Rock, he meets Isabel in the port town before he leaves for the island and both leave an impression on each other – she is the first person that has made him laugh in a long time, and she is attracted to him as well. She sends him a letter with the supply boat, and he takes advantage of his opportunity of his time on shore to hesitantly court her. Tom’s assignment becomes permanent, and when he marries Isabel, he brings her to the lonely but beautiful life of Janus Rock. The supply ship only comes every three months, and Tom only gets a month off every three years so the couple is isolated and on their own but generally happy. As the years accumulate, however, Isabel faces miscarriages, and her sadness grows.