The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Published by Scribner ISBN 9781451681758
Trade paperback, $16, 384 pages
One of Oprah's first book club picks was Jacqueline Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, about a woman whose young son disappeared from a crowded store. Over ten years later, the boy is discovered living with another family and returned to his home.
M.L. Stedman's book, The Light Between Oceans not only shares the word 'ocean' in its title, but the storyline shows the flip side of Mitchard's book. In Stedman's book, a young couple lives on a remote lighthouse island in Australia in the years following WWI. Tom is a war veteran, Isabel is a young woman who lost two brothers to the war.
They have tried to have a baby, but Isabel has miscarried three times and after the last loss has been inconsolable. When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and live baby, Isabel convinces Tom not to report the incident, but to keep the baby girl and pass her off as their own.
Tom is torn between his conscience, his duty and his love for his wife. He has taken her from her family and community and brought her to this desolate place, and he cannot stand to see her so sad. He fears for her sanity.
The baby girl, whom they call Lucy which comes from the Latin word for light, is the light of their lives. Tom is enchanted by the baby, and so thrilled to see his wife happy. Yet keeping this secret gnaws at him, as secrets always do.
The second half of the book revolves around the consequences of the secret being revealed. Stedman has written an amazing debut novel, which puts the reader square in the middle of this situation. You can't help but think as you read, 'what would I do in Tom and Isabel's shoes?'
Much like Jodi Picoult's books, Stedman allows the reader to see both sides, and you like and understand the characters even when you disagree with their actions. Her characters are drawn out through passages like these:
"But he's scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then. He carries that other shadow which is cast inward."
and "It occurs to him that there different versions of himself to farewell- the abandoned eight-year-old, the delusional soldier who hovered somewhere in hell; the lightkeeper who dared to leave his heart undefended. Like Russian dolls, these dolls nested within him."
The author does a wonderful job making the reader feel the desolation of living at the lighthouse alone.
"Tom can go for months and not hear his own voice. He knows some keepers who make a point of singing, just like turning over an engine to make sure it still works. But Tom finds a different freedom in the silence. He listens to the wind. He observes the tine details of life on the island."
The book really comes alive when baby Lucy is introduced into the story. The early chapters deal with Tom's life, and his work at the lighthouse. I heard Stedman speak at a reading and she spoke of the great deal of research she did for this novel, which clearly shows in this remarkable debut, which has received much critical praise, being chosen as an Amazon Best Book of August 2012.
The Light Between Oceans transports you to a different time and place yet asks you a universal question- what would you do for someone you loved?
rating 5 of 5
You'll like this if you liked The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.
The Scribner website has an excerpt of the book here.