Friday, March 29, 2013

"The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans is a quiet novel, full of characters with expected emotions and reactions. There's little that's surprising in the book, but it does what it does well.

The novel follows Tom and Isabel, a recently married couple stationed on Janus, a desolate speck of land important only for its lighthouse, which Tom maintains. Isabel desperately wants a child and is crazy with grief after her third miscarriage when a boat washes ashore. Inside the boat is a dead man and a healthy baby girl. Against Tom's better judgment, Isabel keeps the baby--reasoning that its parents must be dead--, and they decide to pass the child off as their own. However, when they return to the mainland several years later, they learn the baby was not really orphaned.

There's some beautiful description of Janus and the maintenance of the lighthouse as well as understanding about what it's like to live on a piece of land inhabited solely by you. The characters are fully-detailed, but their stories play out conventionally. Tom is a good, hard-working man, devoted to his wife; he gives in to her desire to keep a baby but continually feels guilt. Isabel is devoted to having a child and is an ideal mother to the baby; she allows no thoughts of the baby's origination to enter her mind. When they learn the truth of the baby's parentage, the expected reactions continue. There's a lot of grief and heartache--well-written but also well-trod--that follows. It is, however, a testament to Stedman's skill that even once I learned the truth about the child, I still wanted Isabel to keep her. I knew it wasn't right, but I was completely in sympathy with Isabel's feelings.

That the book ends as it must is perhaps the most surprising part. The reader hopes for a fairytale solution that doesn't come. I saw another reviewer say there was something "fatalistic" about the novel, and I'd agree--though the characters appear to make choices, there's a sense that everything is determined from the start.

The Light Between Oceans wasn't especially memorable, but it's well-written and moves at a quick pace despite little real action occurring.


  1. I was told by a friend that this book is one of the better on the long-list for the Women's Prize for Fiction. I haven't read it yet, but I probably will - especially if it makes the short-list. But it sounds like from your review that it shan't be the very best. Perhaps Bring Up The Bodies will win in the long run....

  2. Maybe I'm too harsh on it--it was certainly well-written and interesting... but I just kept wanting something different. I'm not a big historical fiction fan, either, so maybe it just wasn't my genre. Haven't heard of Bring Up the Bodies--will look into it!