Margin Notes: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up not quite knowing what to think. I was bracing for a sad, harrowing, exhausting read, but I was pleasantly surprised. The description is misleading because the story is so much subtler than the description allows. It tells the story of a good-hearted WWII vet, his loving wife, their happy life of seclusion and love, and their devastation when they can't expand their family. The struggles of each character are so well written that they're not only believable and poignant, but you have real sympathy for each of the characters. The prose is beautiful--I found myself rereading lines and sections (many other reviewers quote passages). The end of the story gets complicated, as you know it will. But I found myself getting caught up in trying to figure out what really would be the 'right' answer for everyone involved. That got me really engaged toward the end. I didn't have the answer and couldn't stop thinking about all the angles of what justice really meant for all involved in this situation. A great read.

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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.


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