All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

on July 20, 2013

Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans
M.L. Stedman
Random House AU
2012, 362p
Read from my local library

In 1926, Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel are the only inhabitants of Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. Tom mans the light there and the two of them live a peaceful life, rarely ever stepping foot back onto the mainland.

One day a boat washes up on the beach containing the dead body of a man and a tiny baby who is still alive. Although Tom knows that he should report this immediately in his logs and call for help, he allows Isabel to persuade him not to, to allow them to see to the child first. To do what needs to be done in order to get her to safety. Having suffered several miscarriages, the most recently only a very short time ago at the heartbreaking stage of seven months into the pregnancy, Isabel takes to the baby immediately. She finds excuse after excuse not to report what has happened and investigate where the child came from and how it came to be in the boat. She assumes that the child’s mother is dead, probably fallen overboard and that they are doing the young baby a favour, looking after her. Isabel names the baby Lucy and it is clear that she comes to see her as her own daughter very quickly. And Tom, he has seen his wife rendered almost insane with grief by her losses. Even though he knows that this is wrong, he can’t find it in his heart to stop Isabel and break her heart yet again.

Life goes by on their remote island and Lucy sneaks under both their skins and into their souls. Although Isabel seems at peace with what they have done, it never rests well with Tom. Especially when they find out, after some years, that Lucy’s mother is still alive. Tom begins to wrestle with his conscience and in the end his actions set them all on a path to despair and heartbreak as he seeks to be able to do what is right.

When this book was published last year, it immediately drew a large amount of very favourable reviews. I saw it featured on The Book Club on the ABC and immediately wanted to read it but haven’t gotten around to it until now. It’s a tale that draws you in, makes you think. I pictured what it would be like to be Isabel, to live a very solitary life with just Tom for company, relying on a supply ship every few months. Growing your own vegetables, tending a few goats and chickens and battling the insane weather where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. It’s the sort of lifestyle that would seem idyllic at first, but might very slowly send you mad. And that’s without the grief of having lost three children.

Isabel believes that the baby is a gift, that it was meant to be. She had just lost a child and then one turned up on her doorstep. She is meant to keep this child, to care for her and love her. And perhaps she genuinely believes that, or perhaps she tells herself whatever she needs to in order to convince herself that keeping the baby is the right thing to do. She doesn’t seem to suffer from Tom’s uneasiness about it, or crippling guilt after they find out the baby’s real circumstances and the fact that her mother is still alive. Isabel has bonded with the baby so utterly that nothing would convince her. I spent equal amounts of time being frustrated with Isabel and feeling so utterly sorry for her. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, I am so fortunate to have never experienced that. I don’t know what it’s like to pray so desperately for something and then have it ripped away. That, combined with the isolation could’ve easily affected her mind, made her do things that she wouldn’t normally do under other circumstances. And Isabel might have just believed that she was the best person to care for the baby – after all she’d ended up adrift in a boat, in the ocean.

But all secrets eventually come out and you can’t keep something that isn’t yours forever. Isabel is filled with such hatred and once again, I believe that’s the only way that she can cope. She has to blame someone, the person who wrecked her perfect idea of her family. She clings to that, ready to allow someone to suffer and I really struggled between disliking her and seeing that she was just a victim of her circumstances and the desperation she had to become a mother. It’s a very powerful thing, it makes people do incredible things.

“Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.”

This is a beautifully written book where you peel back so many layers and find more lurking underneath for you to examine. Tom and Isabel were both so real, so well constructed. I could understand all of their actions – their good and their bad. Their guilt and their joy. And I felt for the child more than anything, who knew love, security and happiness only to have it all ripped away from her when she was at an age old enough to understand it. I thought about my boys, one of whom is the same age as Lucy when the secret comes out and I wonder how he would cope with being taken away from his father and I. How he would feel, what would happen to his development. It was heartbreaking. And I understood Isabel more then.

The Light Between Oceans is a book well-deserved of its hype.


Book #187 of 2013



This is the 73rd novel read and reviewed for my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013


3 responses to “The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

  1. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
    Because I’m 20 and I have this book and I must have got about 15 pages in and I had no idea what I was reading! All the stuff to do with the war and the different places they mention meant absolutely nothing to me so I just stopped reading it.
    I’ve heard fantastic reviews about this book so I’d like to give it a go but I think I just need a translator hahah.

    • I’m 31 – the war stuff doesn’t last long, it’s just background information as Tom fought in it and managed to come home physically fine. After that where it talks about how towns lost their men, etc, it gets more into the actual story.

  2. Good concept, poor writing, and poorly executed. I found this book painful to get through and would not recommend it.

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