The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: March 2012, Random House Australia
In a nutshell
Reading this book is like watching a beautiful, completely justifiable but unavoidably devastating car crash.
What it’s about
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.
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 … *
What I thought of it
The Light Between Oceans absolutely broke my heart. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are – almost without exception – thoroughly likeable. There is no villain to latch onto and blame, with the possible exception of World War I.
The historical detail is fabulous, I very much enjoyed learning all about lighthouses and how they worked back in the 1920s. Including the fact that offshore lighthouse keepers only received a visit from a stores boat every 3 months. The lighthouse keepers themselves were only allowed shore leave every 12 months or so. It was a truly isolated existence – no newspapers, no television, no internet, not even a radio.
The narrative is brilliantly constructed. If a baby washed up in a boat with a dead man, surely it would be logical to call it in? To find out where the baby – and the body, for that matter – came from and return them to their family.
However, Stedman expertly weaves a chain reaction of utterly believable circumstances whereby each decision made by every player in the story is entirely understandable, though morally wrong.
So where does that leave ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? And once you’ve made what is – clearly – a wrong decision, how do you correct it when putting it ‘right’ will hurt even more people now that so much time has passed? Is it better to live with the guilt of your own crimes or confess and shatter the lives of those closest to you?
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you feel like there are no good choices, you will easily relate to this book. But make sure you’ve got your tissue box handy – you’ve been warned.
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* From the official publisher blurb.