The Light Between Oceans

by M. L. Stedman

Paperback, 2013

Call number

FIC STE

Collection

Genres

Publication

Scribner (2013), 345 pages

Description

"A novel set on a remote Australian island, where a childless couple live quietly running a lighthouse, until a boat carrying a baby washes ashore"--

Media reviews

Light" is a story you want to finish, despite some predictability problems. I cared about Tom and Isabel, and cheered for them even as they betrayed each other. And I was charmed by the supporting cast of characters (Bluey and Ralph in particular). Stedman's grasp of the dialect of the region's inhabitants and dialogue fitting for the era are admirable. Her writing is sound, if sometimes uninspiring, but every so often she throws out a gorgeous line that you have to stop and read twice to appreciate, like this one: "A goblin thought jumps onto her shoulder: what's the point of tomorrow?" Or, "The rain is falling more heavily, and in the distance, thunder grumbles at being left behind by the lightning." Nice. First-time novelist Stedman did what all good writers should do: She got her readers emotionally invested in her story. As if you needed it, here's more proof that this novel is worth your time: The film rights have already been picked up.
3 more
The miraculous arrival of a child in the life of a barren couple delivers profound love but also the seeds of destruction.......A polished, cleverly constructed and very precisely calculated first novel
As time passes, the harder the decision becomes to undo and the more towering is its impact. This is the story of its terrible consequences. But it is also a description of the extraordinary, sustaining power of a marriage to bind two people together in love, through the most emotionally harrowing circumstances.
Light Between Oceans' is tough to shake off....And to the author's credit, Light's resolution is neither sensationalistic nor overly tidy. Everyone in this book has to make tough choices, including the little girl. By letting neither her readers nor her characters off the hook easily, Stedman creates a bond that makes her book tough to shake off.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
“He turned his attention to the rotation of the beam, and gave a bitter laugh at the thought that the dip of the light meant that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.” (Ch 20)

In 1918, having spent four excruciating years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock. The isolated island, a full half day’s journey from the coast, is the home to which he brings his new wife, Isabel – young, bold, and mysterious. Years later, after their lives have been jarred by two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabel hears a baby’s cry on the shore. A boat has washed up, carrying a dead man, a living, crying baby, and a woman’s cardigan. Tom, ever meticulous with his duties as lighthouse keeper, proceeds to report the incident immediately. But Isabel has latched the tiny infant to her breast, and begs Tom to waylay his report. Eventually, against his better judgment, Tom agrees to raise the child with Isabel, and they name her Lucy. Alas, there still exists a world outside of the timelessness that is Janus; and their actions will devastate the life of at least one other.

“Hundreds of feet above sea level, he was mesmerized by the drop to the ocean crashing against the cliffs directly below. The water sloshed like white paint, milky-thick, the foam occasionally scraped off long enough to reveal a deep blue undercoat. At the other end of the island, a row of immense boulders created a break against the surf and left the water inside it as calm as a bath. He had the impression he was hanging from the sky, not rising from the earth. Very slowly, he turned a full circle, taking in the nothingness of it all. It seemed his lungs could never be large enough to breathe in this much air, his eyes could never see this much space, nor could he hear the full extent of the rolling, roaring ocean. For the briefest moment, he had no edges.” (Ch 3)

The Light Between Oceans is beautifully written. Stedman creates a sense of timelessness, of infinity on Janus that is just lovely. And the irony of the light, capable of illuminating the way for distant others, but powerless to illumine its immediate space, is effective. I did not care for the denouement of the novel – a little too contrived for my taste. That said, it is certainly a worthwhile read, and I highly recommend.

“Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.” (Ch 20)
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
This story explores the emotional landscape of the human heart. How much pain and sorrow can one hold? And when the limit is reached what actions are acceptable, honorable, or even justified?

As the beginning of the story unfolds there are no obvious signs of the storm brewing in the lives of a young couple who fall in love and choose to live the isolated lives of offshore lightkeepers. In fact, it seems to suit them quite well. However, before long their love and sense of right and wrong are sorely tested when a healthy baby and her dead father wash up on the beach in a rowboat. Many lives become entangled in fear and angst, ultimately unraveling in great sorrow. The struggles of all concerned are monumental and heart wrenching. No ending can be satisfying to this bitter chain of events. Nevertheless, it is just as it must be… tragic and beautiful.

A very sad story is lovingly and thoughtfully written by Stedman – and it’s her first novel. I look forward to future novels by this writer who doesn’t shy away from the difficult or the controversial aspects of living.
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LibraryThing member LadyLiz
This is not one of my favorites, although it does raise some interesting ethical questions. My experience with this book goes as follows: Intrigued, bored, confused, curious, pissed at the characters, relieved, and I ended wishing I hadn't kept going.

Yes, I did get emotionally invested in the characters, and I'm not sure what I would have done, but by the end of this book, I was convinced that none of the characters had any sense!

Also, the random shifts in tense confused me. There are random sections where the author shifts from past tense to present tense and there is no reason whatsoever.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
The novel opens with an arresting scene. A boat washes up on shore on a little island near a lighthouse, its cargo a dead man and a crying baby. Tom, the lighthouse-keeper and his wife Isabel finds the boat - but what to do about the baby? Isabel still mourning after a recent miscarriage can only see this baby as "a gift from God". Is this baby for her?

The moral dilemma is clear from the beginning and we sense the devastating consequences looming - the novel starts out very slow, taking its time to get us into Toms world - a secluded soul but good-hearted - and slowly introduces us to other characters in a little coast-town in Australia in the years following WWI.

This is a story about loss, loneliness, guilt, forgiveness, love. Written with compassion for each character, with a deep understanding of the human heart, it's frailty and strength. It's ability to hurt and love at the same time. We come to understand these people, ache with them in their sorrows and moral agonizing.

Stedmans lyrical prose is filled with biblical imagery - it adds to the themes of guilt and forgiveness. There's so many keen observations about life, so many beautiful poetic passages. What a marvelous debut novel.

A long quote:

“Now and then, as if brought in on the breeze, the memory of Isabel’s kiss floats into his awareness: the touch of her skin, the soft wholeness of her. And he thinks of the years when he simply couldn’t have imagined that such a thing existed. Just to be beside her had made him feel cleaner somehow, refreshed. Yet the sensation leads him back into the darkness, back into the galleries of wounded flesh and twisted limbs. To make sense of it—that’s the challenge. To bear witness to the death, without being broken by the weight of it. There’s no reason he should still be alive, un-maimed. Suddenly Tom realizes he is crying. He weeps for the men snatched away to his left and right, when death had no appetite for him. He weeps for the men he killed.”
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Tom Sherbourne, a decorated hero of World War I, is a haunted man: he's haunted by the men he killed, by the comrades who died alongside him, and by an unhappy childhood--none of which he is willing to talk about. In an effort to find peace, Tom takes a position as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, 100 miles out from the Australian coastal city of Partageuse. No one is more surprised than Tom when he finds love with Isabel Graysmarks, a beautiful and spirited local girl who is willing to marry him and move to the isolated island. Both of them grow to love the spare landscape and the magical light itself. But if there is one thing that blights their happiness, it is Isabel's inability to bear a child. She has suffered two miscarriages and, just two weeks earlier, a stillbirth, when a boat washes ashore, inside it a dead man, a woman's cardigan--and a live infant. As always, Tom feels obligated to do the right thing . . . but just what is the right thing?

Stedman has written a compelling novel, one that captivates the reader and moves him/her through a myriad of emotions, from sorrow to joy, from peacefulness to suspense, from anger to acceptance. Her characters are individual and believable (although I found the child Lucy just a bit too precious) and always deserving of empathy. Stedman's descriptions of the island and of the beloved lighthouse are so vivid that you can smell the salt sea, the polish, and the vapor. Overall, a fine novel--and an amazing debut. I look forward to her next endeavor.
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
Finished reading [The Light Between Oceans] and I really appreciated and enjoyed it. This author uses language and the structure of the story in such a skillful way that she made me slow down and savor every sentence, every paragraph. I confess I am one who skims and skips when reading, especially if I am really wanting to "know what happens". I skip paragraphs to rush my way to the point where the book is "made"; the story is completed. And, yes, I know I miss a good deal when I'm rushing to the end, but often it is the author fault, don't you know, they make me want to know how it ends!

In this case, Ms Stedman also made me want to know, and made me not want to know, all in the same breath. I knew the story was not going to be "happily ever after". I knew a tragedy was in the making, I just did not know how each of her characters was going to chose to act. She made me love them all.

And in the end, I still loved them all. And I loved the author for writing such human characters, for writing such a real story, for describing the setting with such skill that I felt I experienced the beauty and the power of the place, and finally for finding the truth of life in her story. So, really, in the end it was a "happily ever after" story.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I am weeping having just finished this book, one of the longlisted for the Women's Prize. (still Orange Prize to me)

Tom, a Veteran of WWI & guilt ridden that he lived through the war when so many did not, has found that he is unable to cope in the world he has returned to. And so he has put in for a post on lighthouses where he will have solitude to ease his mind and soul. He works several relief 'Lights' before being sent to Janus Rock Lighthouse off Partageuse, Australia. The job requires him to be there 24/7 with supply boats coming out every three months and every three years he will have a leave.

"For the first time he took in the scale of the view. Hundreds of feet above sea level, he was mesmerized by the drop to the ocean crashing against the cliffs directly below. The water sloshed like white paint, milky-thick, the foam occasionally scraped off long enough to reveal a deep blue undercoat. At the other end of the island, a row of immense boulders created a break against the surf and left the water inside it as calm as a bath. He had the impression he was hanging from the sky, not rising from the earth. Very slowly, he turned a full circle, taking in the nothingness of it all. It seemed his lungs could never be large enough to breathe in this much air, his eyes could never see this much space, nor could he hear the full extent of the rolling, roaring ocean. For the briefest moment, he had no edges."

While in Partageuse before heading out to Janus Rock he meets a young lady and they are taken with each other and write back and forth as the supply boats come and go. Within a short time they decide to marry and Isabel joins him out at the lighthouse. She quickly fell in love with the rocky island and all of it's little inlets and coves.
Beginning their family, Tom and Izz were so excited but then to be horribly disappointed when she miscarried the child. The babe was buried up on the high cliff and a rosemary bush was planted at the grave. But they didn't give up and soon Isabel was expecting again. It couldn't happen again but sadly it did. The second babe was buried near the first and another rosemary bush planted.

They went on, Tom lighting the lamp at night and shutting it off in the morn and keeping the lighthouse and all of it's workings sparkling clean and shiny. Isabel gardened, kept a few chickens and kept busy with the house. Then they found that she was pregnant again. Happy and yet frightening news for Isabel mourned her babes so & wanted one so very badly. This little boy babe she carried for much longer but in the end he was stillborn. She raged at God and tore at her hair, she mourned so. Again the infant son was buried beside his two siblings and another rosemary bush was planted. They tried to go back to life as they knew it but this time it was so different and so much more difficult.

Then one day when Isabel was up on the cliffs she thought she heard a baby crying, but surely not. It must be the wind or sea. But then she saw Tom come running out of the Lighthouse and heard him calling for her: A boat, Isabel, a boat! She ran down to him and he helped her as they climbed down the steep path to the sea where there was a small row boat. They could indeed hear a baby crying and could see a man lying in the boat. Tom checked the man for signs of life but he was quite dead. However tucked under the bow he could see a bit of color and there wrapped in a woman's cardigan was a little baby girl crying and very much alive. Isabel took the baby from Tom and it was love at first sight. Tom needed to report the boat, dead man & baby but Izz begged him to wait until morning. His heart sank but he felt so horribly sad for his wife, having just lost their third child two weeks prior, that he gave in. By the next morning she had convinced him that they should bury the man and keep the baby. Obviously the mother had fallen overboard and drowned beings the baby was wrapper in her sweater.
No one would know because the supply boat hadn't been since she had lost this last little one.
I found this to be an excellent story. I highly recommend it and I rated it 4 1/2 stars.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
The key event in this book comes at the very beginning. Tom Sherbourne is the keeper of the lighthouse on Janus Rock and is secluded there for months at a time with his wife Isabel. One day, a row boat washes ashore. Inside are a dead man and a baby wrapped in her mother's sweater. Tom, who keeps the lighthouse by the book, begins to follow proper procedures to report the event, but Isabel, who is convinced that the baby's mother must have fallen overboard, insists that he wait at least until morning and sets about taking care of the baby.

At this point, on page 9 of the book, I wondered what could possibly sustain the book for another 336 pages. It seemed that Stedman had showed her hand too soon. But, I was wrong. For the remainder of the book, Stedman showed me that a decision is not always as it seems. First, she flashes back eight years and fills in the details that brought Tom and Isabel together and to the lighthouse on Janus Rock. This information is not simply backstory. Tom's experiences in World War I and Isabel's experiences as a young wife place their decisions in a different light. With the context in place, we then see what happens next, as shifting circumstances make them see their decision differently as well. While the first half of the book moved a bit slowly, the second half left me breathless. I was lucky to reach this point in the story on a Saturday morning, and by Saturday night I was turning the final page.

This is my real world book club's April book, and I have no doubt that there will be some interesting discussion. Stedman constructed a situation in which right and wrong dissolve quickly into shades of gray. It is seldom easy to find a solution to the problems faced by Tom and Isabel. She also does an excellent job of bringing time and place into the story, as each impacts the decisions that are made. I can't say much more without spoiling the story, so I'll simply say that you should read this one for yourself.
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LibraryThing member SharronA
Beautifully written, but about midway through the book, the story became dull and predictable. In contrast to other reviewers I've read, I found all of the characters, except for Tom, to be one-dimensional and not very appealing.
LibraryThing member MayaP
It begins slowly – which is not to say it’s dull in any way, only that the opening chapters open gently, like a flower, organically, naturally - as we grow to know first Tom, then Isabel, and get to know their insular, isolated island world. Then the baby arrives and the scene is set - though it’s not until almost half-way through the book that the real story begins to unfurl as Tom and Isabel’s perfect life unravels with surprising speed. The Light Between Oceans is not a thriller by any means, but the plot twists and turns as if it were.

It is a stunning work of fiction. Every character is completely believable; their motives, their actions - all entirely sane and credible, utterly realistic. Though every one of the main characters were at odds, everyone was sympathetic, every action and motive was understandable: you could truly feel for them all. Of course, there is no pat, easy, happy ending; the ending - like the beginning and the middle - is quietly surprising, wonderfully well executed and absolutely real.

The glorious writing, the feel for character, the consistently surprising plot, the delightful artistry and skill - are even more astonishing when you find that this is a debut novel. I expect to find The Light Between Oceans on more than one awards list. I can’t imagine how it won’t be one of my top novels of this year, and LM Stedman is definitely a writer to watch.
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LibraryThing member teresa1953
Tom Sherbourne has endured great tragedy during the Great War. It has changed him and made him a different person. Always a loner, Tom becomes a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock on the west coast of Australia, a job not normally given to single men....it is a lonely enough existence without having a wife and family for company.
Isabel Graysmark has taken a fancy to Tom. She sees passed his shyness and is determined to marry him and join him at the lighthouse. She gets her way and they both settle down to wedded bliss. Sadly, Isabel miscarries three babies and is truly heartbroken by their loss.
One day, a small boat drifts in to the bay, and the couple are shocked to find a dead man aboard, together with a small baby girl who is very much alive. Assuming that both parents are dead, Isabel believes this baby is a gift from God and despite Tom's obvious misgivings, she is set on keeping the infant and raising her as their own. Baby Lucy becomes the centre of their lives and she thrives under their care.
How do you reconcile the doubts that Tom has every day? What if the baby's mother is still alive? Isabel refuses to listen to Tom's protestations, but things begin to go badly wrong.
At the heart of this book is the dilemma of right and wrong. The couple have saved this baby's life and she has brought them great joy. What can be wrong about that?
I found M L Stedman's writing very effective and her characterisation is wonderful. It is a heartbreaking story, told with empathy and skill. She leaves the reader wondering what they would do under similar circumstances.
Highly recommended.

This book was made available to me, prior to publication, for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member mckait
This is a story of love and devotion. This is also a story laced with betrayal, but to find who betrayed who is
difficult to say, because it was to be found in many small corners of the story.

Tom is a man touched by war. The war to end all wars tore the life from some, the innocence of others. To be sure it changed the lives of everyone in the industrialized world in some why, I think. He was grateful to just be alive, and was content to tend the light on Janus rock, an offshore light that saw the shops safely on their way or helped to guide them home. Finding love was not something he ever thought to would happen for him, and yet?

Through happenstance or divine intervention, Izzy came into his life. Light shown through and around her for Tom.
When she made it plain that she was willing, no...that she wanted to leave her home and family and join him on Janus rock, he was nearly unable to believe his good fortune. And he was happy. Quietly, mind you, but happy.
And so the very best years of their lives began on a bit of rock offshore of Australia.

Life just doesn't hand us happiness without taking something back, does it? And so during the first otherwise
content and happy years of their marriage Izzy lost a child. And then two more. As she attended the grave of her latest baby lost, she heard the cry of a child. At first, she thought it was her imagination. But, she walked toward the sound and changed the direction of their lives, forever. She did it for love, the love of a child. And tom did it for the love of Izzy.
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LibraryThing member LynleyS
Ay ay yiiii, this is the first book club selection of the year and I am obliged to read it.

What to say. I am completely unmoved by this book. It is what it is. Why it has been handpicked by the local librarian as a book club selection, I am yet to learn. This is the archetypal book club book as chosen by said librarian with certain particular tastes that don't line up with mine. Here's what I mean by the Archetypal Book Club Book, and I'm speaking specifically of our own little regional NSW library system:

1. A Book Club Book probably opens with an exciting action scene. Who says prologues are dead? Here we have a baby washed up to a remote lighthouse in Western Australia. Chapter two will be backstory. Chapter three may even include some backstory on the backstory. We’ll need to read for ages before we get back to the action scene.

2. There will be a romance. If there’s not a romantic main plot there will be a romantic subplot. The romance requires marriage.

3. The setting is highly likely to be either WW1, WW2, or the years between those two.

4. The author’s way of explaining things will touch on nostalgia for older readers and seem to explicitly lecture younger readers. Here we have mini lessons on terms that were used during the war, the sorts of injuries men came home with…

5. After a paragraph showing the reader how a character feels, the character’s feelings will be summed up in a sentence which tells us anyway, in case the reader is too slow on the uptake: [Three paragraphs of handwringing about finances with impending baby arrival] ‘The idea that he was going to be a father made him nervous and excited and worried.’

6. If the book is Australian, the dialogue will at times sound self-consciously so. “I reckon” the book will include a man with red hair who goes by the name of ‘Bluie’. (In case we forgot we were in Australia.)

7. An instance of bad weather will offer a chance for pathetic fallacy: Here, a storm accompanies a miscarriage. After the marriage, clouds foreshadow trouble to come.

8. Scenes can be imagined quite easily as stock photos: A girl smiling manically while throwing crusts of bread to seagulls (who does that except for the insane, or perhaps the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl?) We have a courting couple lying on a rock surrounded by crashing waves; newlyweds in the Kate and Leo Titanic pose…

9. Since the story will be set in a time when women were obliged to perform feminine roles, the heroine of this story (for modern audiences) will have ’tomboyish’ tendencies: “Cricket’s no good for a girl,” says the gran to young Izzy. Yet despite the odd small rebellion, our heroine will conform to every other feminine ideal, in this case the wish to become a loving mother. Our heroine is so good with children because she is childlike herself: ‘Isabel always looked like a child when she was angry.’ When the new baby drifts ashore, ‘Isabel’s belly quickened at the very sight of the baby — her arms knew instinctively how to hold the child and calm her, soothe her.’

10. Juxtaposition in dialogue is a foreign concept. People say exactly as you might expect them to say, if you’ve watched enough Made For TV dramas: “It’s my fault, Tom,” says Izzy after losing her baby. “That’s just not true, Izz.”

11. There will be supernatural shit happening even though it’s not a supernatural book: ‘Looking into those eyes was like looking at the face of God. … That this intricate creature, this exquisite crafting of blood and bones and skin, could have found its way to her, was humbling. … It was impossible to see it as mere chance.’ So no, coincidence in the plot is totally kosher as long as our heroine is surprised by it.

12. ‘…If a wife lost a husband, there was a whole new word to describe who she was: she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter.’ Who came up with this first? It’s basically a line out of Six Feet Under.

This book has some heavy handed Christian messages and themes, which don't sit easily with this atheist reader. Let's face it; I was never going to enjoy this book, but at least I won't get kicked out of book club for failing to get through it. Amen.
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LibraryThing member Schatje
The novel is set in the 1920s in western Australia. Tom Sherbourne, a World War I vet, becomes the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote, uninhabited island. On one of his shore leaves he meets a young woman named Isabel whom he eventually marries and takes to Janus Rock with him. Their marriage is happy except that Isabel is devastated by two miscarriages and a stillbirth. Just after this last tragedy, a boat washes up on shore with a dead man and an infant. Isabel convinces Tom that they should keep the baby girl and pass it off as their own. This is the story of the consequences of that decision which becomes more difficult to undo as time passes.

The book examines the impact of isolation on morality. “The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm – the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you’re wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.” Tom and Isabel live the story they tell themselves since “History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent” and “everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember.” Everything changes of course when they see the impact of their actions on others. Tom “begins to wonder how he could have inflicted such suffering. He begins to wonder what the bloody hell he’s done. ” Once he sees the consequences of their actions, Tom becomes like Janus, the god after whom the island was named: “Always looking both ways, torn between two ways of seeing things.”

Another major theme is that of love, in particular the love of a parent for a child and the love between a husband and wife, and what people are capable of doing in the name of love. Sometimes love blinds people to the truth. At one point Tom ponders love: “He struggles to make sense of it – all this love, so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens.” The light of the lighthouse guides mariners to safety by showing them the right way to take; the problem is that Tom does not have a light to guide him because “A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.”

A major strong point of this book is that the author manages to make everyone’s motives understandable to the reader. We come to understand why Isabel thinks “God has sent us an angel” and why Tom agrees to the deception despite his misgivings but then has difficulty living with his decision. Both Tom and Isabel’s family backgrounds are given and they too help explain the reasons for their actions throughout the book. The viewpoint of minor characters is occasionally given so even their behaviour is made plausible.

No easy answers are given, and that is another reason I recommend the book. The lens in the lighthouse is “all light and clarity.” Unfortunately, life is not, and this book gives us pause to contemplate its dark corners.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
He struggles to make sense of it – all this love so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens. - from The Light Between Oceans, page 225 -

A lighthouse warns of danger – tells people to keep their distance. She had mistaken it for a place of safety. - from the Light Between Oceans, page 227 -

Tom Sherbourne carries the scars of war after spending four years on the Western Front during WWI. He returns to Australia and accepts the job as light keeper on Janus Rock – a distant and isolated outpost a half day’s journey from the mainland and the small town of Partageuse. It is in Partageuse he meets Isabel, a young woman whose indefatigable spirit captures his heart. The two marry and begin their life on Janus Rock where the waves and wind, and the gorgeous landscape fill their days. Isabel quickly becomes pregnant, only to lose the child to miscarriage. Two more pregnancies end in disaster…and it is in the sad days following her last pregnancy when Isabel hears a baby’s cry. A boat has washed up on Janus Rock carrying a dead man and a very much alive baby girl. For Isabel, it is the miracle she has been waiting for; but for Tom the arrival of the boat will challenge his sense of right and wrong and test his marriage to Isabel. Tom’s decision to allow Isabel to keep the infant girl (who they name Lucy) and allow the death of the baby’s father to go unreported will have consequences which will profoundly impact not only he and Isabel, but a third person – Lucy’s biological mother who has never given up hope that her baby will be found.

M. L. Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, is a compelling story about love, loss, loneliness, and the consequences of our moral choices. Stedman’s prose is haunting and filled with symbolism grounded in the natural world. Janus Rock isolates Tom and Isabel, which makes their choice to keep Lucy easier – it is just them, on a rock, in between the oceans. It is only when the return to the mainland for an infrequent vacation when they are reminded they are not alone in the world.

Tom’s journey is one of recovery from a less than ideal childhood and the horrors of war. He carries guilt and a desire to put things right again. His conflict lies between protecting Isabel and Lucy, and the idea of justice and resolution for Lucy’s biological mother. Whatever he decides will cause pain to someone. Tom clings to what is real and solid – the lighthouse and its duties, the predictable rise and fall of the ocean – to travel his path…so when faced with the intangible and unpredictable, he finds himself floundering.

He must turn to something solid, because if he didn’t, who knew where his mind or his soul could blow away to, like a balloon without ballast. That was the only thing that had got him through four years of blood and madness: know exactly where your gun is when you doze for ten minutes in your dugout; always check your gas mask; see that your men have understood their orders to the letter. You don’t think ahead in years or months: you think about this hour, and maybe the next. Anything else is just speculation. – from The Light Between Oceans, page 33 -

he Light Between Oceans is beautifully wrought, but not without its flaws. Some plot points felt a bit implausible or contrived, and the novel begins slowly. I read this book for an online book club, and some participants stopped reading because they found the story to slow to engage them. Although I agree that Stedman takes her time to develop the characters and their conflicts, I loved the alluring imagery and lyrical cadence of Stedman’s prose. Sticking with the book proved to have its rewards. Stedman ultimately creates memorable characters and a story which reminds readers that life is complicated and the decisions we make can have devastating consequences not only for ourselves, but for others.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction and like books with complex characters who are driven by internal conflict, will find themselves drawn to The Light Between Oceans. M.L. Stedman’s first novel is a meditation on love and loss, and is a moving introduction to a new voice in literature.

Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member cathyskye
First Line: On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.

Tom Sherbourne has done something that hundreds of thousands of other young men didn't: survive four years on the Western Front. When this World War I veteran returns home to Australia, all he wants to do is to forget, to find a job where he can be of use, and to be left to himself. He takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly a half day's journey from the coast of Western Australia. It is a life of isolation. The supply boat comes four times a year, and shore leave might be granted every other year at best.

To this life, Tom brings a young, vivacious, and loving wife, but years pass, and after two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Tom sees that the wife he loves more than life itself is wasting away before his eyes. One morning while tending those tiny graves, Isabel hears a baby's cry on the wind. It is not her imagination. A boat has washed ashore. Aboard are a dead man and a tiny living baby girl.

No one has taken better care of the Janus Rock Lighthouse than Tom Sherbourne. Everything gleams; every bit of machinery runs smoothly; and his records are meticulous. Tom is an intensely moral man, and he wants to report the man and infant immediately, but Isabel has taken the baby and clings to her like a drowning woman to a life raft. Against his better judgment, the incident is not reported, and Tom and Isabel claim the baby as their own and name her Lucy. For Isabel, life is idyllic for two years. Then leave is granted, and the family of three return to shore where they are reminded that there are other people in the world, and their decision has ruined the life of one of them.

You would never dream that The Light Between Oceans is a debut novel. The isolated setting of Janus Rock is indelibly drawn: the wind, the birds wheeling in the air, the crashing of the waves, the steady brilliance of the light at night. The sights, the scents, the sounds-- they all live in the mind as do the streets and the inhabitants of the small town of Partageuse where Isobel's parents live, and where Tom, Isabel and Lucy spend their infrequent leave.

It's impossible to read this book and not become totally drawn in by the characters: the withdrawn and haunted Tom, the bold and laughing Isabel, and all the people who call Partageuse home. It was also impossible for me to read this book and not to choose sides. One of the major images of the book is this meeting of opposites. Janus Rock stands where the warm Indian and cold Antarctic Oceans meet. It's where the taciturn Tom and the ebullient Isabel live. It's where a brilliant light flashes continuously throughout the dark nights. It's where a bad decision is made for all the right reasons. The town of Partageuse continues the image.

I was completely caught up in Stedman's story. I was staunchly in Tom's camp, and I wanted to shake sense into Isabel, but these are not one-dimensional characters, and as the story progressed, I finally put away my outraged sense of right and wrong and let wave after wave of consequences toss me onto the rocks. All I could do was watch... and feel my heart break for these people.

You won't find any easy answers in The Light Between Oceans, but you will find a beautifully written and sensitively told story about people who make mistakes and learn to live with the aftermath. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member akreese
The Light Between Oceans is the story of a childless couple, Tom and Isabel, who live on an island as caretakers for a lighthouse off the coast of Australia. Life changes dramatically for them when a boat washes ashore containing a dead man and an adorable little crying baby. Isabel is in mourning from the miscarriages that she has had, and nurturing a baby is the perfect therapy. So she convinces her husband not to tell anyone about the boat, and to claim the child as their own.

As the years pass, Isabel is filled with joy in her role as mom to baby Lucy. Tom, however much he loves Lucy and sees her as the light of his life, is still filled with guilt over his part in the deception. When he finds out who Lucy’s real mother is, he starts to crack under the pressure of that guilt.

The greatest tension in this story comes from not knowing if Tom can continue carrying on the deception and claiming Lucy as his own. It brings up issues of what would be best for the child? Should he just leave well enough alone, even though there is a mother out there mourning the loss of her child and not moving on with her life?

It makes for compelling reading, following as these characters blunder along, trying their best to figure out what is the right thing to do (or in Isabel’s case, trying her best to convince Tom that the deception is best for everyone).

The author takes you inside the lives of these characters and lets you see their side of the story, and I began to argue both sides in my head; I could see why Isabel did what she did, and understand why she thought that changing their minds or confessing would be catastrophic. There is no question in my mind that keeping the baby was the wrong thing to do, but after Lucy had lived with them for years on end it becomes more complicated. In a way it is much like a switched at birth story (or The Face on the Milk Carton).

I think this would make an excellent book club choice for the ethical questions it raises and the debates that are sure to follow. On a purely superficial note, I absolutely love the beautiful starlit cover!
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LibraryThing member ccayne
Tom and Isabel are happily married on a lighthouse island until it becomes apparent that she can't have children. When the "adopt" a child who washes ashore with her dead father, it seems a miracle. That is where the trouble began. Fairly predictable but well written. I came to really dislike Isabel.
LibraryThing member trishrope
I went through many stages with this book. First it took me a while to really get into it, but when I did I couldn’t put it down. Then I thought at one point I would give the book 5 stars, but around Chapter 35 I had to drop the rating to a 4, and by the end I decided to give it a 3. Upon further reflection I have changed it to a 2.

This is an ambitious novel with big themes; what defines family is the biggest one, but it touches on the sacrifices we make for the people we love, it also covers the idea that morality is not always black and white, i.e. killing in war is good, we give people medals and promotions in that context, but it is called murder when the same thing is done outside of a war.

I appreciate the themes she covers, the solid writing, the well-drawn, three- dimensional characters, and the compelling and thought provoking story she tells. So, what didn’t I like? Contrivance. I hate when stories become contrived and the author blatantly tries to manipulate the reader. Without going into too much detail and revealing a plot spoiler, I have to say, “Did Isabel really need yet another moral choice to make about three-quarters through the book (weren’t the 3 or so already on her plate sufficient enough for the author)? I feel like Stedman sacrificed her characters to a plot contrivance. I didn’t feel like any of the characters were true to themselves (or at least what she had shown them to be up to that point) from that chapter forward.

And the ending was so trite I felt like I was watching a Nicholas Sparks book made for TV. The shame of it! I felt totally let down by the end of it. What could have been a truly stunning debut novel turned into one of those lip trembling, tear- welling, bittersweet endings that apparently the masses eat up these days and call literary fiction.
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LibraryThing member cnwilliamson
This has become one of my favorite novels to date. Such a moving, compelling story that so cleverly reaches the most tender parts of the human heart, Stedman uses the power of human emotion and it's impact on our decision-making. I couldn't put it down, and neither could I stop the tears from falling near the end of this heart-wrenching story of a couple who face dire consequences after deciding to keep an abandoned infant who arrives on their island by boat. I recommend this novel to anyone who treasures a good love story, not only between a man and a woman, but between a parent and child.… (more)
LibraryThing member hellonicole
After a false start (I had to put the book aside after experiencing personal matters that too close mirrored events that took place in the book) I finally managed to pick it back up. This was a very emotional book for me to read, and therefore to review. It deals with people making difficult decisions during very emotional, trying times. To that effect, the book was very moving. At the same time, I found myself having trouble relating to some of the characters. As emotionally invested as I became with the actual story, I just couldn't fall in love with the characters, leaving me a little jaded over all.

The writing was great, the descriptions vivid, the subject matter heart-wrenching. But the characters just fell a little flat.
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LibraryThing member Litfan
I greatly enjoyed this beautifully written novel. It is the story of Tom, a war veteran who becomes a lighthouse keeper on the isolated Janus Rock, his young wife Isabel, and the far-reaching ramifications of the choice that they make to keep a baby who has washed up in a boat on the island, to raise as their own.

The author creates a stunning sense of setting and Janus Rock is described quite compellingly. The characters of Tom and Isabel are sympathetic, and their love for the rescued Lucy is as touching as it is tragic. In the shelter of the island, they are able to forget that Lucy belonged to someone before them; the real world eventually intrudes, however, forcing them to examine the consequences of their choice. Ultimately, there is no right way to rectify what has been done.

The best quality of this novel is its unflinchingly honest exploration of how good human beings come to do things that are horribly wrong, how we justify those things to ourselves, and how we cope when the wrongs come to light. There aren’t any good guys or bad guys in this story, and as much as you want to dislike certain characters for choices made, the author’s ability to show their deeper humanity allows the reader to maintain a connection even to characters whose actions are very questionable.

The writing is gorgeous, and I found myself so emotionally engaged in this novel that at several points I had tears in my eyes. This is a story that really sinks in and doesn’t let go, and I will be on the lookout for more by this author.
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LibraryThing member Naberius
I really enjoyed this book and actually devoured in it a sitting (it was a Sunday morning, I had my coffee and a cinnamon roll, and I wound up just sitting and reading and reading ...... in all fairness, my husband was also mowing through his book). I know the plot doesn't sound like this would be a thrilling, page-turner of a read ----- but I got really caught up in the characters, and in their stories, and I just kept reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen.

I liked how the author writes the characters; not only do we see their development through the book, but we see their interactions with each other, and how those interactions begin to drive the story. At first, we just have Tom, who has been keeping the lighthouse, and the girl he meets and marries, Isabel. Isabel is younger than Tom, and she's a good balance to his quiet, steadfast character. That's not to say that she chafes against life on the island ---- but she's a bit more outspoken and high spirited than Tom. They seem to have a good marriage, but when the boat washes ashore, and they decide to keep the baby as their own, cracks appear in their relationship.

At the same time we're spending a lot of the story with Tom and Isabel and the baby, other characters are introduced ..... and this is where the cracks in Tom and Isabel's marriage really start to become larger. I don't want to have any spoilers here, so I can't say too much more ---- but suffice to say, their decision to keep the baby as raise her as their own seems like a good decision at first, but then some serious repercussions happen later.

As I said, I got caught up with these characters, and their lives. I found myself wondering if I would have made the same decision as Isabel did, or what I would have done if I were Tom. I thought about how it would be to live on an island, where you didn't see people from the mainland very often, and how that would impact your personal privacy. I felt the author did a nice job of really developing the main characters, so that you understand their motivations --- and their emotions. Needless to say, this is a somewhat emotional story, where the secrets kept for the best-meant intentions can cause a lot of fissures between people (and not just the two people in a marriage). I did also like the setting, with the island and the lighthouse (and I learned a lot about what goes into the upkeep of a lighthouse, which was interesting).
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LibraryThing member honkcronk
The story of a young married couple that "find" an infant and keep it may not be a new one. But this book is different. It takes place on a lighthouse island off the coast of Australia. Can a more remote location be found? It is not remote enough as civilization shows up on the shore with a dinghy with father and child aboard. Also, the couple, Isabel and Tom cannot be remote enough from Australian society to live separately forever while raising their infant.

I loved this book and after the first third, I could not put it down. It is hard to review the book without giving some of the story away. I thought I could guess the ending while reading it, but I was wrong. It is an emotional book.

I happily give this 5 stars.

I look forward to M. L. Stedman's next novel already!
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LibraryThing member kiwifortyniner
This is the best book I have read for a long time. It is the author's first book so I hope more are written. It was a beautifully written story where the settings for the story came alive to me. I found myself really identifying with the characters in the story and wondering what I would have done in their position. Tom and his wife Izzy are the only inhabitants of Janus rock where Tom is the lighthouse keeper. It is a lonely existence and Izzy desperately wants a child but has suffered three miscarriages, the last one a boy born dead. Just after this a boat is washed up on the beach with a dead man in it and a very young baby girl that is still alive. A distrauaght Izzy, mourning the death of her son persuades a reluctant Tom not to report it and they bury the man and the baby becomes part of their family. They have several happy years together. But when they discover who the baby really is and that her mother is still alive and desperately grieving for her lost child guilt takes over and Tom cannot cope with the decision he has made and takes steps that lead to the baby being reunited with a mother that she does not know. So one decision made has had terrible consequences - Izzy is heart broken, Tom hates what he has done but feels he had no choice, and the child Lucy is torn from the onlly family she has ever known. I felt empathy for all the characters and their situations. They were very real to me. The plot had its twist and turns and I felt really involved in the story. It will stay with me for a long time.… (more)

Pages

345

ISBN

1451681755 / 9781451681758
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