Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
SPOILER ALERT: I found it impossible to write this review without giving away some aspects of the story that might be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
I first heard of M. L. Stedman’s novel The Light Between Oceans when the movie came out. I was busy at the time and missed the film, but then my book club announced that we’d be reading this book for January, so I decided it was my chance to get to know this story.
Tom Sherbourne has served in World War 1, and, back in Australia, he starts working at various lighthouses. He is posted to Janus Island, a remote rock in the middle of nowhere out in the ocean. It’s while he’s in a nearby town that he meets his future wife, Isabel, a joyful and somewhat naiive country girl.
They have a peaceful and private life on Janus, but their happy marriage is overshadowed by Isabel’s multiple miscarriages. They so want to start a family together, but unfortunately they have 3 miscarriages in a row. Then a mysterious boat with a dead guy and a little baby girl washes up, and their lives take a dramatic change…
This book is about loss. All of the characters experience some kind of heart-wrenching loss at one point or another. It’s not uplifting or light and airy, so if you’re looking for that kind of read, then you should probably put this one down. I think it is quite a lovely, if very sad and depressing, story if you can put aside the multiple too-convenient-to-be-believable coincidences that occur throughout.
SPOILER ALERT (they’re going to start now…)
Isabel’s losses in particular have stayed with me throughout the book. First, she lost 3 babies in still births, and that was of course extremely difficult. Then there was the heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching removal of Lucy from her life. And piled on top of that are her feelings of having been betrayed by Tom, who you could say caused the whole thing. Isabel never really recovers from this final betrayal and loss, even though Tom loyally sticks by her side. She eventually dies, a completely different person to her younger, buoyant, silly, optimistic self.
My book club will be talking about this book and Ian McEwan’s The Children Act together. I think there is an obvious connection between the two novels, where they both have at their centre a child or children who are at the mercy of conflicted adults to make a decision that takes into account their best interests. I also found that, in both books, the adults all gave off a sense of floundering in a sea of loss and sadness. In the case of Tom and Isabel, it’s Isabel’s losing the babies and Tom’s losses in the war (and of course their loss of Lucy). In the case of Fiona, it’s the demise of her marriage, and the tragedies of past cases that weigh on her. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear other comparisons and opinions in the book club and I will report back here.
Authors commonly use light and darkness to set the mood or hint at the “goodness” or “badness” of their characters. I can see this being done in that Tom and Isabel’s life is full of happiness until, suddenly, they are wrenched from their life with the lighthouse (the “goodness”), back to the mainland. Also, I think Tom’s life in the war, before the story really starts, if a period of “darkness” that came before he was introduced to the “lights.”