The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

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The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: In this engagingly beautiful read, Tom and Izzy Sherbourne find happiness together after the ravages of World War I, looking after the lighthouse on remote Australian Janus Rock. It's not total happiness though as they're unable to have children but one decision one night changes this, whilst creating a devastating storm that will affect more lives than theirs.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0857521002

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Richard and Judy Summer Reading List 2013

Thomas Sherbourne returns to Australia after World War I. Internally scarred like many of his generation, he chooses the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock to escape the world and its conflict. However, he soon learns that there is one part of the world he can't live without – the sassy, beautiful Izzy Graysmark, a local from the nearest port and country town of Partaguese. They have a happy marriage in all respects apart from one: they're haunted by their inability to have children. Therefore, one day, when a boat washes up onto Janus bearing a dead man and a crying baby, apparent salvation arrives too.

I was intrigued and a little worried about the blurb on this, Australian M L Stedman's debut novel. How would a story about a couple and a baby on a remote rock of an island be sustained for 300 plus pages? It's actually sustained rather beautifully and in a way that turns every word into a magnet that you aren't going to skip or forget. There's so much here. The reader gradually becomes acquainted with the occupants of the small seaside community of Partaguese, unaware of the time bomb that's about to explode. However, at the heart of this there is one man, who, fed up with witnessing suffering, makes one decision to give someone happiness. This single decision then goes on to affect eight lives, and creates almost as much inner turmoil as the war years they'd escaped.

If I was to compare this book with something I've read, Thomas Hardy comes to mind, but this is better. I'll explain... I read a lot of Hardy during my late teens and hurled most of his books against a wall of some kind somewhere. Why? Because the characters were all going hell-for-leather towards destruction, always picking the worse possible path when better choices were available. Hardy seemed to be doing this on purpose to annoy. In M L Stedman's world it's different. Tom Sherbourne is no hard edged criminal, but a good bloke who put others before himself in the trenches and, indeed, at home. His wife, Izzy, is not a bad person, just someone who sees a harmless route to fill a deep, black, hole of personal and familial despair. This is perhaps at the heart of the author's ingenuity: there are no baddies in this book, no anti-heroes. In isolation the principal character's acts may be the sort that are condemned or looked on in askance by society, but we're given the gift of coming to know each affected person completely, their history and motivation, page by page. In this way Ms Stedman ensures that we fully understand. These are not Hardyesque experimental constructs choosing worst alternatives. These are just people buffeted along by a sea of different individual hurts, trying to make it to the other side, trying to heal. In fact, talking about clever writing, the town's name itself means both to share and also to separate. I'll leave the full connotation of that for you to discover.

Please don't let me leave you with the thought that this is a depressing book, it's not... it's special. There's talk of how The Light Between Oceans started a screenplay bidding war even before it was published. I can understand that. This definitely seems to be a novel worth fighting for.

I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this perhaps you'd like to try Bleakly Hall by Elaine di Rollo. Although the setting is very different, it also looks at the way that survivors of WWI cope with their homecoming. (A lighter read than it sounds.) You might also enjoy Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall.

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Buy The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman at


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