The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (thoughts)
From the publisher’s website:
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
This book caught me off guard and threw me for a loop. I will fully admit that the stunning cover had a great deal to do with me picking it up, and I didn’t really know what it was about when I started it. And I really like when that happens, when I open to the first page of a book and whatever follows is a complete mystery to me.
The story meanders in the beginning a bit, giving little snippets of Tom’s life leading up to his life on Janus in the early 1920s. It’s not a distracted sort of meandering, but a ‘let’s get settled into the story’ sort. Tom is quickly joined by the feisty and strong-minded Isabel, and together they create their own little paradise off the coast of south west Australia. Of course, as it goes, unhappiness seeps into paradise. Isabel becomes more and more withdrawn with every miscarriage, but a second (third? fourth?) chance at happiness seems to arrive with the miraculous appearance of this tiny, helpless little baby.
And this is where things get messy. The Light Between Oceans brought out a host of emotions, but the top one, for me, was anxiety. I spend a good portion of this book feeling overwhelmingly anxious. Everything seemed so helpless and I couldn’t see how things could possibly turn out well for anyone. It kept bringing me back to listening to this song. At it’s core, I know this song is a hopeful one, but the feel of it seemed to fit the hopelessness and pain of many of the characters perfectly.
On top of all that, thanks to Stedman’s excellent storytelling, I didn’t know whom I wanted things to turn out well for. That takes some talent. I knew who I should want things to work out for, but the whole situation became too tangled and muddled for one simple solution to seem feasible. But even though everything seemed completely hopeless for all parties involved, I couldn’t stop reading. As gut-wrenching as it was, I was completely pulled into the story. And as I read the last few pages in tears, I couldn’t believe it was already over.
Yes, after all that anxiety and worry, I highly recommend The Light Between Oceans – for the story itself, and for the opportunity to wrestle over the questions of who is in the right, to whom should favour be shown, and in the end, does it even matter?