The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Book Review

Book Title: The Light Between Oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman

Genre: Historical fiction, Romance, Emotional Drama

Blurb from Goodreads

Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take 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 two 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.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerising, beautifully written debut novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

My Review

“ There are times when the ocean is not the ocean; not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the Lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.”

This book tells of a love story between a husband and wife. It tells of love and loyalty, of joys and sorrows and begs the question if you were so consumed with grief and loss ‘what would you do’. As the book’s tagline states ‘this is a story about right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same’.

Tom is a wonderful character. He is still a relatively young man at the start of the book, in his late twenties and has recently returned from war…

He is a man thankful to still be living but yet consumed by the grief and guilt that he did not perish and physically suffer as so many others did. He is quiet; very quiet. He keeps to himself and embraces his work as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island where he is the only resident. At first this is a temporary position and he is allowed a few weeks furlough every six months, and during these times he meets Isabel, or Izzy.

Izzy is younger, just nineteen years old.

Free spirited, innocent, joyous and she falls for the quietly mysterious Tom… He can’t quite believe his luck. They have a shy, quiet courtship… he even urges her to forget about him while he is away on the island but she dreams of marriage and babies and their living together in this remote idyll… Her version of paradise is the remote lighthouse keeper’s island.

They soon marry, they move to the island and they live and love together… 

The story that follows is beautiful and touching. It is one that will tug at the heartstrings, you will not know right from wrong. What side to take?

Tom’s undying loyalty to his wife, his guilt over his war-past… I utterly loved him as a main character. His quietness, his need for order…

“You don’t think ahead in years or months: you think about this hour, and maybe the next. Anything else is speculation. He raised the binoculars and scoured the island for more signs of life: he needed to see the goats, the sheep; to count them. Stick to the solid to the brass fittings which had to be polished, the glass which had to be cleaned…
He gripped each thought like the rung of a ladder by which to haul himself back to the knowable; back to this life.”

Izzy… her zest for life, her need to love, to give more of herself, how circumstance can crush a beautiful soul, her pain, her sorrow… I loved her too! 

I loved the island setting; I loved the language of this book… Especially the first half of the novel.

This was a book of two halves and the first half was my favourite. It felt so soothing to me, like my heart was tenderly being carried amidst these pages.

The pacing was perfect… I do like books to be slower and gentler, to almost lull me to a peaceful state… and this was so calming. It stilled my mind; I got entirely lost in the pages of this book. I felt serene.

Yet there was always something bubbling under the surface…decisions made have consequences and the second half of the book dealt with those.

Where the first half was quiet and calming the second half was much more urgent. I read more quickly, perhaps you could say I was even more invested in these characters by then. Oh and the consequences, the fall out… the dissection of a marriage… It all made for a very emotional read and a tear-filled ending.

“You’ve had so much strife but you’re always happy. How do you do it?”
“I choose to” he said. “I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened… Or I can forgive and forget”
“But it’s not that easy.”
… “Oh but my treasure it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”

I really enjoyed this story. It was the book I needed to read after a turbulent time. This calmed me and brought me back to earth…all while quietly managing to break my heart!

“Scars are just another kind of memory.”

I read and reviewed The Light Between Oceans a good many years ago and it’s a novel that has stayed with me in a way that many don’t. I still recall its quietness, the lyrical nature of the narrative, and its deep emotional depths. I loaned my copy to my mum some time after I read it and it came back to me with a very tattered cover and well-thumbed pages; I had to carry out a few repairs with some sellotape but I took all of this as a very high compliment as it meant that my mum had truly lost herself to the story too. I’m not precious about maintaining pristine looking books so I love seeing a paperback that looks like it’s been through the war. We discussed it too and she confirmed to me that she absolutely did adore it.

In the years since I’ve read the novel it has been adapted into a film that I still haven’t seen. I’m not a lover of seeing my favourite books adapted for the screen as they lose some of the intimacy that can only be experienced between a reader and the author imo. Perhaps I will watch it some day… but if I’m honest I’d rather sit down and reread this beautiful book.

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4 thoughts on “The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Book Review

  1. For some reason, I don’t know why, I’ve always felt unsure whether I want to pick this one up or not. As an emotional reader it sounds like the kind of story I’d love because it’ll send me through it 😂 But perhaps I’m also hesitating to read it for those same reasons. Definitely sounds like the kind of book you have to be in the right mood to read. Wonderful review though, and some of these quotes really do make me want to pick it up! Haven’t seen the movie either but I do quite like Vikander and Fassbender 👀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Read this one a while back and while I can’t say I liked the characters as much as it seems you did, it’s gripping story and a beautiful presentation of grief. The film felt quite tonally different to me, with less depth. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often find film adaptations just don’t translate the qualities I love about a book to the big screen. Much and all as I’m a fan of the cast I just don’t think it’s a film for me now that you’ve told me how much shallower it felt.


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