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After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes 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 mesmerizing, beautifully written 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.
The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.
I cried hard while reading The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. That book should come with a warning label because it wasn’t just the ending that did it to me – I cried throughout the whole book. In fact, this was another book my husband and I decided to read together but at about 25% he just looked at me and said, “No. I’m not reading this. I’m not doing this to myself. You read it but damn, it’s depressing.” Well, it’s not depressing but it is a tragedy (and we got into a big debate over the differences between a depressing book and a tragic book which I’m not going to repeat here). It’s also absolutely amazing so you should buy it and start reading it right this very second.
WARNING: Read this book but buy all the Kleenex first because you will cry.
What I loved most about this book (despite my husband’s objections) is that whether it’s a depressing tale of love and loss or a beautiful tale of hope and answered prayers, depends on the character you choose to remember in the end. While The Light Between Oceans is told primarily as the story of Tom Sherbourne (home from the war and suffering mental and emotional scars) and his wife Isabel (a tragic figure who is unable to carry her own child to term despite her dreams and prayers of motherhood) it’s important to remember that despite her limited presence in the book, Hannah Roennfeldt is a very central figure in the tale being told.
It’s a tragedy for Tom and Isabel but it’s a story of hope and redemption for Hannah. Which story is more important? Which one is right? And, when you’ve finished reading, whose story will be remembered in your heart as the driving message behind The Light Between Oceans?
It’s a story that confronts the madness of grief, the need for endless hope, the importance of honesty, and an awareness of consequences. It also stops and asks us to examine how we define family. In the end, you feel heartache for one family and joy for the others, if you can put yourself into both sets of shoes. Whether the concluding fate of the child was the best decision to be made depends on whether you’re an Isabel or a Hannah. Above all else, this book is a great tale that confronts the truth that there are always at least two perspectives to every situation and right/wrong isn’t always black and white, especially as time passes and consequence begin to pile up.
I highly recommend this book for your book club if you haven’t read it yet because it’s a book that is made for conversation. It’s a book that, if he had finished it, my husband and I could discuss and debate for days. I mean, how do you make the decision when the time for the right decision has passed? Ahh, heartbreaking!
Have you read The Light Between Oceans? What did you think of the fate of Lucy-Grace?