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The Light Between Oceans: A Novel by ML…

The Light Between Oceans: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by ML Stedman

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4,0573671,253 (3.95)1 / 342
Title:The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
Authors:ML Stedman
Info:Scribner (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:historical fiction

Work details

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (2012)

  1. 10
    Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: A infant washes ashore on a remote island and is adopted by the locals, although the child's origins remain a mystery. Although Latitudes of Melt is set in Canada, not Australia, both character-driven historical novels are lush, detailed, and descriptive.… (more)
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    Silas Marner by George Eliot (aliklein)
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Showing 1-5 of 375 (next | show all)
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this one. The first third is amazing, the middle third was a bit of a slog, and the last third was somewhat sloppy, overly predictable, and infuriating (in a way that made you want to keep reading, but still). Perhaps the most jarring part of the entire book is Lucy's dialogue. It just didn't sound like a real child a lot of the time, which took me out of the story. In the end what pushed it from three stars to four is simply that it affected me. However much I intellectualized and criticized and sliced it up every which way the bare truth is that it got to me, it made me feel, and that's gotta count for something. Anyway, this isn't going to be a fully fleshed out review. I'd just like to add to the discussion of the characters and rant a bit.

So some people sympathize with Isabelle, some with Hannah. Some people hate this book, it seems, only because they feel it's written in such a way that you're supposed to sympathize with Isabelle and they don't take her "side". I disagree that the book is written to make you take a particular side, but whatever. My question is this: what the hell is wrong with you people? And what the hell is wrong with all the adults in this book? Why is nobody thinking of the kid? Why is everybody so concerned what these two adult women want and feel? Who cares?

Like, okay, Isabelle made a bad decision to keep a washed up ocean baby that wasn't hers because she had miscarriages and wanted a baby so bad, and the father was dead and good common sense said the mother was most likely dead as well, and also because nobody would let people living on a small rock in the ocean adopt a baby formally so she would likely go to an orphanage for no good reason if they reported it and the mother really was dead. An ultimately bad decision, made for (mostly) selfish reasons, but it's not, like, insane or anything. It seemed fairly reasonable in the grand scheme of things. Fuck me, right? Regardless, it wasn't malicious.

ANYWAY. So she made a bad decision but didn't know anyone was hurt by it at first. Then a little girl grows up, and these are the only parents she knows, and it's simply too late to fix things now that they do know the mother is still alive and is suffering. The child's happiness and peace of mind now takes precedence over any adult in the story, full-stop. If you think otherwise, well, I hate to break it to you but you are simply incorrect. I don't give a damn how bad Hannah is hurting, bitch needs to get over it already. Your daughter has grown up without you, that ship has sailed. You knew her fer a few weeks, come on now. You can't rip a child away from their loving home just because the biological mother finds out she's alive all of a sudden and desperately wants her daughter back mostly for her own selfish reasons. That's not how it works (or how it should work, anyway).

I was just as disappointed in Tom, who put his own need to be a "good person" and tell the truth or whatever over a child's happiness and mental health. Good job, dude. Dad of the fucking year. You're an adult! You've been in a war! Handle your goddamn feels, bro. I'd divorce the shit out of you if I was Isabelle. If you can't hide a body and keep a secret for your wife ya'll people ain't meant for each other and you don't really love her. She ain't even ask you to kill nobody! Literally all you had to do was let a bitch be sad so your wife and child can be happy and you couldn't do it. Just let a bitch be sad! A bitch is gonna be sad either way, might as well be the one you don't live with. Common sense! Do you have it?!

And as for the other adults that get tied up in this mess towards the end, well...look, as someone who spent the better part of my childhood with a dead mother and living with my grandparents I can tell you that ripping me from my home and forcing me by power of law to go live with my dad, even though I saw him every summer and he was my dad and mostly a decent guy, would have traumatized me for years. I know this because I've had nightmares about it that I still vividly remember. Violent, sudden change like that is traumatic for kids.

Granted Lucy is much younger than I was and she does eventually fully forget and adapt, but still. It really sickened me to see so many people behave so selfishly and so cavalierly about this child's life and well-being and have so little respect for what she wanted. How the fuck can anybody think it's okay to just take a little girl away from the only parents she knows and force her to live with a complete stranger, biological parent or not? She's so distraught that the town doctor keeps giving her sedatives (which is fucked up on its own). Like, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?! I wanted to burn most of the adults in this town alive for thinking this was even close to an acceptable thing to do to put a child through and just accepting it as the natural thing to do, but most of all Hannah and that doctor. What selfish, delusional pieces of human garbage for seeing what they had done to Lucy and thinking the best course is to just wait it out and let her literally be in shock all day, every day until she's not. Just because it eventually works doesn't excuse it or make them any less terrible people. Well I guess there we have it don't we? I'm "team Isabelle" then, because Hannah is just too damn crazy and selfish and doesn't actually care what's best for the child at all and puts her through hell just so she can be the one to have her. I hated how this story ended. Just rip my heart out and step on it why don't you.


Now I just want to be clear that my ranting is not any indication that I think these are badly written characters. They are, in fact, the opposite. I was disappointed in Tom. That's not a bad thing. That means he's a well written character that gives me strong, conflicting feelings and that I care enough about to be let down by. Isabelle and Hannah are also good characters. I understand where both are coming from, both have believable motivations and shortcomings, etc. They're all infuriating people, but in a very real way that reminds me of people I actually know. This book succeeds almost entirely on the strength of its (adult) characters and beautifully realized setting. ( )
  ForeverMasterless | Apr 23, 2017 |
I think another Goodreads reviewer said it best: this is a story of what happens when good people make bad decisions.

I really enjoyed reading this story, and particularly liked being surprised by some of the later developments in the plot. Moral decisions, madness, the desperation to be a parent: there were a lot of things going on at the remote lighthouse on Janus Rock where Tom and his wife Isabel lived a lonely, childless existence. The washing ashore of a baby in a rowboat with her dead father was rather unlikely (okay, contrived) but it sure seemed like providence for Tom and Izzy. The subsequent return of the young family to the mainland and the discovery of the child's true parentage (and her bereft mother) made the story become very interesting indeed. Worth a read. ( )
  LemonyT | Apr 21, 2017 |
The Light Between Oceans is a enthralling tale, capturing me from this first line:

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross,

This is a debut novel by M.L. Stedman, who was born and raised in Western Australia. Her knowledge and descriptions of the coast of Australia are beautifully rendered. There's even a map at the beginning. (I love me a map with a novel). The author also has done her homework on light houses -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tom Sherbourne has miraculously survived World War I, but only just. Still shattered, he is hired to keep the lighthouse on Janus, an island off the coast of Australia. As the sole inhabitant of the tiny island, he finds comfort with the precision and routine of manning the lighthouse;

Stick to the solid. To the brass fittings which had to be polished, the glass which had to be cleaned. Getting the oil in, keeping the cogs moving, topping up the mercury to let the light glide. He gripped each like a rung of a ladder, by which to haul himself back to the knowable; back to his life.

But then during a break on the mainland, he falls in love with Isabel, they marry and return to the island to run the lighthouse together. The chapter where he shows Isabel around the lighthouse and explains how it works is pure magic with lovely descriptive writing. Isabel sees the lighthouse as..."a palace of prisms, like a beehive made of glass".

At this point in the story I believe the reader should adapt what is called a willing suspension of disbelief. Isabel and Tom have suffered two miscarriages and tragically, a third stillbirth.

A few weeks later, a canoe washes ashore containing a dead man and a live baby girl. Tom wants to report the dead man and take the baby to the mainland to find her family -- but Isabel begs him to keep the child. He reluctantly agrees and this begins the cycle of consequences.

Thus, the suspension of belief - I kept reading, entranced but amazed at their actions. They bury the man and keep the baby. Both Tom and Isabel fall completely in love with the little girl they name Lucy. When they found Lucy, all that was with her was a beautiful silver rattle. There is no other identification.

Do they wonder about the baby's grieving family on the mainland? Don't they want to know the circumstances of the man's death, not to mention his identity? Aren't they concerned by the fact that they have broken the law? The couple suspend all rational actions and thoughts, and they blithely build their idyllic life on the island, with their magic baby.

Now dear readers, we're at the middle of the novel and this is where my willingness to suspend belief almost became a willingness to suspend reading. But, I had to carry on, keenly interested to know the outcome for our little family on the island.

Now we read through redundant circles of Tom grappling with his love and loyalty to Isabel and his sense of morality of what they have done We experience the anguish and consequences of the decisions made, and not made. We meet the real mother and discover how nothing is purely right or wrong -- all beautifully written, if overwrought. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, "This would make a great film".

The second half of the book is stoked with pathos and emotions on full power. And the ending, though probably right and ultimately quite moving, leaps over many of the key events - leaving much for the reader to question.

I gave my copy of The Light Between Oceans to a departing house guest and decided to only say, "this will be a great plane book" - which I am positive it will be.

Because, despite my criticisms, I was smitten by this best-seller and I kept reading to the end. I'm sure it will make a lovely, tear jerking, Hallmark sort of film --- not to mention, a very successful new author.

( )
  BookBarmy | Apr 13, 2017 |
well... where to start? First of all the story itself is flat, and very repetitive. I couldn't bring myself to finish it. After 250 pages I just skipped to the end and I didn't feel like I missed anything. ( )
  Dohakoma | Apr 4, 2017 |
Steadman weaves a compelling story about Tom, a lighthouse keeper on a remote island in Australia, and Izzy, his wife. After several miscarriages, Izzy persuades Tom to pass off a baby who washes up in a rowing boat at the lighthouse island with a dead man, presumed to be its father, as their own child. Needless to say all starts to unravel once the couple return to shore on leave to discover the tragic story behind the baby's disappearance and the mother's distress. A good beach read. ( )
  sianpr | Mar 29, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 375 (next | show all)
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.

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.


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M. L. Stedmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Delaney, ColleenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, NoahNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.
There are still more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way.
History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.
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Book description
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.

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 extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife, Isabel, live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world.
The one April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant - and the path of the couple's lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.
Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day - as the baby's real story unfolds...
M.L.STEDMAN'S debut is the mesmerising novel of loyalty, love and unbearable choices.
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"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"--

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