The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Finished on 4/24/13
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)
An extraordinary and heart-rending book about good people, tragic decisions and the beauty found in each of them.
~ Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief
The debut of a stunning new voice in fiction—a novel both heartbreaking and transcendent.
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 Western 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 winds. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
M.L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinary compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer.
Do you see that? A 5/5 rating! It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had one of those and Stedman’s debut novel deserves nothing less! I’m not even going to knock off any points for the slow start, because that could easily be attributed to my fatigue from an exhausting week at work. Once I got a few pages in, I was hooked and could barely set the book aside. I even read a few pages while fixing dinner!
On a violent ocean:
There are times when the ocean is not the ocean—not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.
On the persistence of the passage of time:
The wind had kept up its sullen howl. The late-afternoon sun continued to shine in through the window, laying a blanket of bright gold over the woman and her almost-baby. The old clock on the kitchen wall still clicked its minutes with fussy punctuality. A life had come and gone and nature had not paused a second for it. The machine of time and space grinds on, and people are fed through it like grist through the mill.
Anyone who’s worked on the Offshore Lights can tell you about it—the isolation, and the spell it casts. Like sparks flung off the furnace that is Australia, these beacons dot around it, flickering on and off, some of them only ever seen by a handful of living souls. But their isolation saves the whole continent from isolation—keeps the shipping lanes safe, as vessels steam the thousands of miles to bring machines and books and cloth, in return for wool and wheat, coal and gold: the fruits of ingenuity traded for the fruits of earth.
The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, on 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.
The Light Between Oceans is the type of book that could easily be read in a few days, but I took my time, slowly savoring the lyrical prose, dreading the turn of that final page. However, as the conclusion drew near with an ominous sense of foreboding, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the words, holding my breath as the tension mounted. Each of the characters faced a moral dilemma with no perfect solution; the heartbreak of both was inevitable. And yet, in spite of this tragic story, I came away from it with a feeling of satisfaction.
An outstanding debut that is sure to be a winner among fans of literary fiction and book clubs alike. Stedman’s vigorously evocative narrative, along with a strong sense of place, depicts the powerful isolation and ultimate desperation of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his family. The author’s skill in crafting a thought-provoking and gripping tale, peopled with fully-realized characters (who in spite of their flaws, will win over even the harshest of critics), is more characteristic of a seasoned writer than one fresh to the world of bestsellers. I anxiously await her second endeavor and meanwhile, I plan to listen to the audio version of this remarkable novel. Kudos, Ms. Stedman!