Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

  • Title: The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
  • Classification: Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Format: Paperback; 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451681755
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451681758

'The logbook tells the tale of the keeper's life in the same steady pen. The exact minute the light was lit, the exact minute it was put out the following morning. The weather, the ships that passed.(...) The log is the gospel truth.'

Every so often in life, circumstances line up, certain conditions are met, and emotions, which under normal circumstances would stay in check, go awry allowing someone's moral compass to go out of whack and allow them to do the unthinkable. Tom Sherbourne is the Lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. His wife, Izzy, and he have been trying for years to have a child, yet every time they think their long wait is over, the pregnancy has ended in miscarriage. Now just days after the most recent miscarriage, a small boat, a dinghy, washes up on the tiny Island of Janus Rock. In the boat is a dead man and a small infant wrapped in a woman's cardigan. It's a lighthouse keeper's job to track any and all events. It's a light keeper's duty to signal the shore to report a dead man and a child have washed up on its shores, but in a moment of weakness. In a moment of insanity. The unthinkable happened...

"You know Janus is where the word January comes from. It's named after the same god as this island. He's got two faces back to back."(...)
"What's he god of?"
"Doorways. Always looking both ways, torn between two ways of seeing things."

This Tom's "Janus" point (ie crossroads). 

This was a beautiful and well written novel. Using a writing style I've come to refer to over the years as "poetic gesture", for lack of a better term, Ms. Stedman takes something as ordinary as a lighthouse and weaves terms, sights and objects associated with its maintenance, and the job associated with it throughout the story as she spins her emotional tale. Nothing rhymes, but by the repetition of associated terms and their symbolism it almost appears to. I think this is one of my favorite writing styles and I find it both beautiful and clever. Some examples of what I mean:

- 'Just like the mercury that made the light go around, Isabel was--mysterious. Able to cure and to poison; able to bear the whole weight of the light, but capable of fracturing into a thousand uncatchable particles, running off in all directions escaping from itself.'

- 'The line between the ocean and the sky became harder to judge, as the light faltered second by second.'

- 'Quicksilver. Fascinating, but impossible to predict. It could bear the ton of glass in the light, but try to put your finger on a drop of it, and it would race away in any direction. The image kept coming to Tom's mind as he sat thinking about Isabel after Knuckey's questioning. He thought back to the day after the last stillbirth, when he had tried to comfort her."

Some have suggested that 'the light between oceans' is a metaphor for Lu Lu (Lucy) being the light caught between two mothers. To me it is a metaphor for the area of gray between right and wrong and Lu Lu Lighthouse, as Lucy refers to herself at one point in the book, is the light that sets the two apart. The light that blinds one from seeing the black from the white. As Tom states at one point, 'A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.'

Overall, I gave this one 5 out of 5 roses. A beautifully written story that is thought provoking and emotionally moving. I ended up being caught between both sides of the story as we learn what truly happened that fatal day. Feeling awful for both Tom and Lucy's true mother. Knowing that, as a mom, what Isabel and Tom did was a terrible thing, but not being able to hate them either. This book makes one wonder if,  "Perhaps when it comes to it, no one is just the worst thing they ever did." A wonderful and stunning debut by author M.L. Stedman. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her books. I HIGHLY recommend this one.

Visuals to go with the review:
   photo lighthouse_zpsf8fd5249.gif  photo kiu_zpsd57596b8.jpg  photo LightHouse_zps1cbd5853.jpg photo lighthouse_zps129f6b51.jpg  photo IMG_2683_zps23ecf29e.jpg  photo 2013-02-2236SpiralstairsinOldPointLomaLighthouse_zpsaa30385c.jpg photo lighthouse_zps0b736d78.jpg Ms. Stedman didn't say what kind of whales could be seen by the lighthouse, so I thought I'd post a variety:  photo HumpbackWhale_zps9922db41.jpg  photo DSC_1876_zpsceb1e4cb.jpg  photo humpback_zps309fbaca.jpg  photo pod-of-sperm-whales-sleeping_zps86875afa.jpg
 For those of you with eBooks, here is a picture of the log book included in the book on the front and back pages. I'm not sure it they show it.:
 photo logfromthelightbetween_zpsfdb50114.jpg


  1. This book sounds really interesting. Particularly with Anzac Day having just passed us by for another year. I've been reading Peter Fitzsimons' The Ballad of Les Darcy. I really like the transition that seemed to happen to Australia before and after World War I.

    Marlene Detierro (Rogue River Salmon Fishing)

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