Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of World War One, is the lighthouse keeper of Janus, a remote Australian island that marks the meeting of the Indian and Southern Oceans.  He lives a quiet life with his impulsive wife, Isabel.  They are happy together but both mourn the fact that they are unable to have children; Isabel has suffered a string of miscarriages and a recent still-birth.  When, days after her still-birth, a boat containing a dead man and a newborn baby washes up on the beach, Tom and Isabel must decide whether to do the right thing, or whether to take the chance to make their dream come true.

The Light Between Oceans has had a bit of buzz on book blogs, so I was excited to see it long-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction this year.  I picked it up with high hopes but unfortunately the novel didn't quite work for me.  There were many elements I liked about it but as a whole, it felt a bit lacking.

Starting with what I liked:  I loved the remote setting of Janus island and how vividly the sea is described by Stedman.  We get to see the power of nature helping Tom to recover from the war and there are many lovely scenes where Isabel, newly arrived to the island, explores all the hidden caves and coves.  The writing about the setting was beautiful; I could almost taste the salt from the sea.  I also appreciated how Stedman refrained from making a moral judgement on Tom and Isabel, everything was kept deliberately ambiguous.  A lot of their actions could be seen as right or wrong, and it was left up to the reader to decide for themselves what they would have done in Isabel's situation.  I liked that the tone of the book was completely non-judgemental.

However, I never connected properly with either Tom or Isabel and this is where the book fell down.  I certainly felt sorry for them after Isabel's miscarriages and still-births but Isabel especially remained an emotionally distant figure.  I needed to engage with her more for the book to really work.  Also, the story covered a long time span and some parts were more interesting than others.  The beginning and end were strong, but the middle lacked that special something.

On the whole, The Light Between Oceans is a solid, well written book.  It just didn't quite work for me personally.  I wouldn't be surprised to see it on the short-list.

Source: Library
First Published: 2012
Score: 3 out of 5

Read Alongside:
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg - This was longlisted for the Orange Prize this year and is a similar story of a couple starting a life together on a deserted island, this time the Hebrides in the 1830s.

26 comments:

  1. This is one of those books that I've seen around so much that it makes me wonder if I've already read it? The title sounds so familiar! But I don't think I have? Sigh..my poor memory.

    It sounds like a decent read that didn't make you jump up and down ;)

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    1. That's a perfect description of it. I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting great things from it.

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  2. Thanks for the review. I plan to read this one, too. The fact that descriptive parts are well done is encouraging for me.

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    1. Yes, as an armchair traveller I love to be transported to different settings by descriptive writing :)

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  3. I really enjoyed this one. It was different because, like you said, it's hard to judge. I could sympathize with all the major players. I think Isabel is distant -- that's just her personality, although I did feel a connection. I had no problems connecting with Tom. I did think there were some slow parts, but I was listening to the audio (very good, BTW) and I tend to be more patient with pacing. Great review!

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  4. I love everything about lighthouses and this one sounds like it hits the mark, although it is a little disappointing that there is a lack of connection with the characters. I'll probably still pick up a copy and give it a read.

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    1. Given that you love lighthouses, you will probably enjoy it a bit more than me as there is a lot on the light and how it is operated.

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  5. I've read many reviews of this one and gone back and forth on whether or not I want to read it? I'm still not sure. I think I would have a difficult time connecting with these folks as well.

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    1. It's a solid book, but it's not going to set the world on fire.

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  6. I keep picking this book up at the book stores, but never brought it, Might have to give it ago sometime soon

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    1. Let me know what you think if you do, Michael.

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  7. I found it a very emotional read and had to wait a few days before I could think about it objectively. I loved the descriptive prose but like you couldn't get close to any of the characters.

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    1. I wanted to find it emotional but as I couldn't get close to Isabel, I was a bit too detached from the thing to be affected by it, unfortunately.

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  8. This is one of the novels on the shortlist I'm not particularly drawn to - not sure why. I'll probably get to it last!

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  9. I loved this book (probably because of the whole lighthouse thing) but I almost disliked Isabel as a character. Unusally that didn't effect my enjoyment of the novel. It seems to be one that people either really love or are just a bit blah about.

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  10. I've heard mainly great things about this book. I would really like to read it. I'm sorry to hear it didn't quite hit the note for you.

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  11. It's so difficult to get into a book when it's uneven and the characters don't really grab you. Sorry this one didn't work for you!

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  12. This is a book that my new book group is considering for the summer. Do you think it would be a good book for discussion? I love, love, love good nature and scenery descriptions and non-judgment from authors so those are two pluses for me.

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  14. I've heard a lot about this book too. I'm on the wait list for it at my library, so I expect to read it eventually. Thanks for this review. If my expectations aren't too high I might enjoy it more!

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  15. I felt much the same way as you about this book, with one exception. I didn't feel like it was at all morally ambiguous - I wasn't convinced that what Tom and Isabel did could be justified in any way. I wish I felt it was less black and white, but nothing about the book or the characters convinced me, and as a result I was a bit exasperated with them and really disliked Isabel.

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  16. Ive seen this title and some reviews of it. SOrry you didn't like it, it definitely doesn't sound like I would pick it up.

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  17. Hmmm. To bad you weren't thrilled by this one. I've been thinking of reading it because I've heard really great things. It became less of a rush once it didn't make the short-list for the Prize Formerly Known as Orange, though...gotta read the others first. :)

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  18. I am going to get this book for reading while at the cottage in July - it sounds perfect!

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