Thursday, January 3, 2013

Guest Review ~ The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans 
Author: ML Stedman
Publisher: Scribner
 Publication Date: July 2012
Source: Library Copy
Reviewed by: Malissa :)
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Malissa, my best friend and reading partner, and I were talking not too long ago and I asked her if she wanted to post a review (or more than one, whatever, whenever) on my blog. She did! :) So here's her first guest post. :)

~Goodreads Description~

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 finished this book back before Christmas (Dec 21st to be precise), but it's taken me until now to get the time to sit down and review it. In the long run, though, I'm actually glad that it did because sometimes I need a little bit of distance from a book to decide how I really feel about it. So...

There's a lot to like about this book. It's well written. The author has a unique way of beginning a chapter/section where she begins the first paragraph in present tense and then slowly (invisibly, really) transitions to past tense. It gives the impression that the reader enters a scene with a close up and then zooms out slowly. It's an almost cinematic feel. And it works well with the story in that the reader is close to the action but also has the slightly removed view of the omniscient narrator that provides a broader perspective. The language is beautiful and the setting (a lighthouse off the coast of Australia circa 1926) is exotic and engaging. And, most importantly, the story is a compelling one.

So, then, why only 3.5 stars? The dust jacket description of this book says it's 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.' Now I love a good moral dilemma as much as the next reader, but there was NO dilemma here for me. The premise of this story (and I'm not giving anything away here are the DJ and any publisher's synopsis tells you this much) is that Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, a young couple living on the island (he's taken the post of lighthouse keeper post WWI), have had 2 miscarriages and a devastating stillbirth when a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a nearly newborn infant. The couple (against Tom's better judgement) decide to keep the baby and pretend it's their own child born several weeks early. Their reasoning being that the dead man must be the father and the mother must have washed overboard because no mother lets her infant out of her sight at such a very young age and so the baby will surely end up in a horrible orphanage.

Now I am admittedly not yet a parent. I've never had a miscarriage, and so I can only imagine the emotional devastation that Isabel would feel after losing 3 babies. But, and this is a big 'but' for me, I ama sister, and an aunt, and a cousin, and the honorary aunt of my best friend's two kids (I like to think so anyway ;) she is... :) ~Brandy), and I know without a second's hesitation that I would take in the child of any of the aforementioned people in a heartbeat if they were to suddenly wash over over the side of a dingy. I can't think of one child I know who is loved only by his/her parents and would be missed by no one else. And, of course, since this is a novel, you can assume things will not be as simple as Tom and Isabel think they can be. But my big problem is that I just couldn't bring myself to sympathize with them. What they did wasn't a dilemma. It was wrong. I didn't hate them by any means, but a moral dilemma isn't much good if you can't buy into both sides of it. At least I couldn't.

Other readers have loved this book. It has a 4.1 star average from over 15,000 readers on Goodreads. And there's a lot more to the story than the early bones I've described here. But the rest couldn't redeem the book for me in the end (even though the end is rather well done). But I will likely still pick up M.L. Stedman's next book because her writing appeals to me very much, and just because this book an I had our disagreements doesn't mean I won't fall in love with the next one.

Has anyone read it? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you think you will?

Thanks for reading!

♥ B ♥


  1. I haven't read this one yet, but I have it on my TBR list. I really want to read it because it sounds so good. You do ask an interesting question about morals, though. One of my English teachers once said that people are not good or bad, they just do what they have to do." Whereas I do think that there are morals in this not so moral world, I also think there's some truth to this statement.

    1. I don't know if I'm supposed to respond here first or if that's Brandy's job, lol. Since it's her blog and all. But since I happen to be here ...

      I think I agree with you (at least how I'm reading it) that morality usually isn't simple, but it *does* exist. I don't think we have the right, for example, to go around hurting others for our own selfish gain. And I felt like that's what was happening here. But I'm sure my perspective may differ from that of other readers with different experiences, etc.

      That quote reminds me of another I like that a friend posted the other day: "feelings are neither good nor bad but just are." But another librarian friend pointed out that while that's true, it's also often not the whole story. So I suppose even that isn't simple ...

      Great comment! =)

    2. Nothing is ever that simple. I used to always say "you can't help how you feel". Now I'm not so sure on that, at least all the time. I'm not a black or white type person, I guess.

      I do believe people do what they have to do, but their morals, assuming they have them, guide them to do good, not bad, where others are concerned.


Thank you so much for taking your time to share your thoughts! I try to respond to everyone. :)