My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Light Between Oceans is a great debut novel. I know that has been written by others elsewhere, but the reality is that it is true. Set in Australia a few years after World War I, this is a story about how one choice, made out of love and desperation, can have a long-lasting and devastating impact on the lives of many people.
I don’t want to give away too much as one of the best things about this book is that it didn’t end predictably. The story centres around Tom Sherbourne who has returned to Australia after fighting at the front lines of World War I. He wants to forget his time in the war and there seems to be a lot that is haunting him. He takes a job with the Lighthouse Board and ends up manning one of the more remote lighthouses, Janus Rock. It is about half a day’s journey from the mainland and shore leave is sparse. It suits him well until on one shore leave in Partageuse he meets and falls for a young local called Isabel Graysmark. They eventually marry and she moves out to Janus with him.
Initially their time their is idyllic, but things get strained when she suffers two miscarriages and a stillbirth. Then one day she hears a baby crying in the wind. Seeing a boat wash up on the shore, Tom and Isabel discover where the crying has come from. In the boat there is a young baby girl along with a dead man, who appears to be her father. Instead of following his initial instinct, which is to report his find, Tom is persuaded by his wife to bury the dead man and keep the bay as their own. She just recently suffered the stillbirth and people would have no problem believing this young girl to be their own child.
The decision to keep the child is the central part of the story around which everything else evolves and develops. Upon returning to the mainland on one of their shore leaves they are shaken form their dream world on Janus to the reality that this child has a past that cannot be ignored or avoided.
As the plot develops, the story is shown from the viewpoint of everyone concerned with the life of the young child. Stedman shows the feelings of everyone well and it is easy to have sympathy for all the main characters. However, it is obvious that things cannot turn out well for everyone. People get caught between what they want and what is morally right. Love and guilt collide as the story moves towards its end.
As I previously mentioned, the ending was not predictable. Even up to the last couple of chapters the story could have gone in a number of directions. Ultimately, someone had to lose, but even for those who did, there was some redemption as the story came to its conclusion.
This book is released at the end of the month and I would highly recommend it. It raises a number of questions about doing the morally right thing, even if it may initially hurt the ones you love. I can see this being a good book club choice, because the questions raised could give many different answers. I look forward to M.L. Stedman’s next offering with great anticipation, because The Light Between Oceans is a magnificent start.
(DISCLAIMER: I received a free galley of this book via NetGalley. This in no way influenced my review.)