Book Review: M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”

The Light Between Oceans

If you were caught in between two choices both with very heavy consequences, what would you do? Which would you choose? Would you sacrifice the feelings of the people you care for and love to be morally correct, or would you rather continue living your life as it is with a complete family knowing that while you’re happy someone else is suffering because of your decisions? Will you be able to live with that kind of guilt? Will you ever be able to forgive yourself?

Some tough questions, right? Well, that is what M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is about – the intricate interconnection of lives, choices and decisions, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

 “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 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.”

The Light in Between Oceans is a beautiful novel that’s both compelling as it is heart-breaking. It’s a tale about loss, about choices and consequences, about a mother’s love for her child. It is filled with potent characters that all have to make tough, often misguided, decisions. They are people who only want what’s best for the ones they love, people who are flawed, who also hurt; people who are very much like us.

M.L. Stedman created believable characters that readers will surely be able to empathize, maybe even sympathize, with. Many times I’ve found myself understanding why Tom and Isabel did the things they did, though it’s not something I would condone. They both have different and conflicting ways of dealing with their situation. A quote from another character in the story, Ralph Addicott, Tom’s friend,  puts it best. “God knows what got into the pair of you out there. There’s been lie upon lie, all with the best intentions. But it’s gone far enough. Everything you’ve done to help Lucy has hurt someone else.” It’s hard to judge them, Tom and Isabel. Everything they’ve done was to protect Lucy, but everything has its consequences. Tom and Isabel’s characters are both strong and very much affecting. They will make you think about yourself, what you would do if you were in the same situation. Indeed, if I were put in their shoes, I think I will also make a handful of irritional decisions, maybe I could even do worse.

Writing is another strength of this story. The author writes in almost poetic fashion, descriptive and meaningful. She let’s her prose unfold slowly, bit by bit, letting readers absorb and really immerse themselves into Tom and Isabel’s life.

Emotional, deeply affecting and thought-provoking, this is an excellent debut by the author M.L. Stedman. It actually took me months before I finished this novel. I started it last March and only got myself to finish mid-August. It also took some time to let the story really sink in, thus the late review. Usually those are signs I didn’t enjoy the book, but for this one it’s the exact opposite. I enjoyed reading The Light Between Oceans, it was just painful to read about all the characters’s misgivings that I had to stop very often that’s how much I was affected by this story. If you want heart-rending tales, this one is a must-read.

Rated: 3.5/5