This is a review of the book The Light Between Oceans, the haunting debut novel by ML Stedman.
The main thing that struck me about this book was the emphasis on choices, and the ramifications they can have. Every choice made in the book was realistic, believable and understandable, yet in some cases horrific in what they meant for others. The tagline, “a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same”, absolutely captures the essence of the book.
Without giving too much away, the story centres around Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, who maintain the lighthouse on a remote Western Australian island in 1926. One day a boat washes onshore, carrying a dead man and a crying baby, no older than two or three months. The Sherbournes, still reeling from two miscarriages and the stillbirth of a son just two weeks prior to the event, decide not to report the incident, instead burying the man and raising the child as their own. Things come to a head, though, when they discover that the mother is still alive and searching for her missing husband and daughter.
As a mother myself, I could totally understand the decision to keep the baby, especially when it seemed she had no family of her own. Equally, I can understand the birth mother’s determination to find her family no matter what. Some of the choices the characters make in this story are unbearable and would be unconscionable under any other circumstances, yet, heart-wrenching as they are, they are also logical for the situation and within character for the people concerned.
Finally, the emotion that so charges the situation was palpable. I could feel each character’s hopes and fears, and what drew them. I was reduced to tears at the end (perhaps not a huge sign, as I cry at everything. To quote The Simpsons, my husband tells me that I cry when I do long division and have a remainder left over) as these people faced to an outcome that was ideal for no one yet had to be acceptable for everyone. This was a compromise that affected people’s lives to the core.
There were some parts of the novel that didn’t quite sit right with me, though. I was puzzled at the occasional use of present tense, as it seemed to serve no purpose and instead just distracted me from the story. In addition, there were large swathes of back story at the start that I felt might have been better incorporated in another way, so the reader didn’t feel fatigued by the weight of information. All in all, though, I thought this was an incredible book, and I am totally unsurprised that it is being released into so many markets, and there is talk of a film option. If any debut novel deserves that treatment, it’s this one.
The Light Between Oceans, by ML Stedman
Published by Random House Australia & various international publishers
362 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as ebook or hardcover, or Booktopia (Australia) as paperback