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[529] The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman


” From her earliest days, the child from Janus Rock has experienced the extremes of human life as the norm. Who knows what visceral memories of her first trip to the island, and the scene that caused it, linger in the body? Even if that has been erased completely, her days at the lighthouse, in a world inhabited by only three people, have seeped into her very being. Her bond with the couple who raised her is fierce and beyond questioning. She cannot name the sensation of losing them as grief. She has no word for longing or despair. ” (Ch.33, p.300)

Jarred by the memories of war and an unhappy childhood from which his mother was banished, Tom Shelbourne has always found comfort in solitude. After four harrowing years on the Western Front, the lighthouse keeper post at Janus Rock, an isolated island dangling off the edge of Australian mainland, suits him perfectly. Nearly a hundred miles off the coast, the lighthouse, which provides a mantle of safety for 30 miles, is linked only by a store boat four times a year. Life adopts a monotonous but comforting rhythm when he brings his wife Isabel to Janus Rock, until she has two miscarriages and a stillbirth that plunge them into despair.

To have lost her child. To have seen Lucy terrified and distraught at being torn from the only people in the world she really knew: this was already unbearable. But to know it had happened because of her own husband—the man she adored, the man she’d given her life to—was simply impossible to grasp. (Ch.25, p.227)

When a baby had washed up in a dinghy with a dead man and a wet female cardigan draped over the hull, Isabel, whose heart gets the better of her common sense, persuades her husband to keep the baby and pass the girl off as their own daughter. in the wake of a recent stillbirth, she treats the girl as a godsend miracle. A stickler for rules and order, Tom hesitates but complies with his wife out of sympathy, regarding the baby as God’s gift to make up for their tragedies. But the impact of their decision hits them in an unexpected way. On top of the legal consequences and breach of his duty, Tom’s conscience is purged. It gnaws away at him that Lucy’s understanding of life and of herself would be founded on a single, enormous lie, and that in maintaining this façade their happiness is on the tab of the child’s real mother.

The confidence Hannah had gained in handling her baby in the first weeks of her life was swiftly eroded. The rhythms of intimacy, the unspoken understandings, which she had assumed she could just pick up again, were lost to her: the child no longer responded in a way she would predict. They were like two dancers whose steps were foreign to one another. (Ch.27, p.248)

In this debut novel, Stedman creates strong argument on both sides, delving into the blurring of lines between right and wrong. The book takes its predictable course toward a neutral compromise where justice for one is another’s tragic loss. Moving but also contrived at times, The Light Between Oceans explores the snarl of human emotion, and how far-gone even the best of intentions can go awry. This story about a good man who cannot keep a secret and who sacrifices himself for his wife’s choices will leave you emotionally invested.

343 pp. Scribner. Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


6 Responses

  1. Just finished this one…it took me FOREVER. I didn’t warm to it immediately, but ultimately I enjoyed it. There is a lot to discuss, with grey areas of morality, and you find yourself asking yourself the question “what would I do?”. I didn’t warm to Isabel, but I loved Tom.

    • The beginning was a bit slow and clunky. But the story quickly warmed up to me. Despite her misfortunes and miscarriages, she had no right to claim the baby to herself. That was a mistake.

  2. Second strong review I’ve read of this today. It’s now on my list.

  3. […] Lomax, who becomes Stoner’s implacable enemy. Why isn’t this book adopted into a film? The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman In this debut novel, Stedman creates strong argument on both sides, delving into […]

  4. The 1891 story that inspired Stedman was made into two films, actually, both called “Captain January” (Janus Rock…get it?), the first a silent starring Baby Peggy and the second Shirley Temple.in 1936.

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