Author: M.L. Stedman
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
Source: received as a gift from Cornelia at Small Hour Books
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
This book is AMAZING. It is also really, really, really (really really) sad. If you want to be completely absorbed by a beautifully-written, thought-provoking, thrilling novel, while also crying giant alligator tears, then do I have the book for you!
The absolute best thing about The Light Between Oceans is the moral ambiguity of each character's actions. Tom and Isabel make a startling choice when the boat washes up at their home on Janus Rock. Taken at face value, it's a choice that is illegal and unjust. But as Tom and Isabel each explain their actions in their own way, readers can't help but see the possible good in what they've done. Right and wrong are certainly not easily separable in this novel--not just for Tom and Isabel, but for many of the other characters that are brought into their complicated web. As things begin to spiral out of their control, the couple must constantly re-evaluate their intentions, and what "right" really means.
That said...you're always waiting to see when that other shoe is going to drop, hence the nail-biting suspense. This is a very emotional, heart-wrenching book, but Stedman writes it in a way that allows you to appreciate the writing, while simultaneously scrambling to get to the next chapter and see what's to come. I find that many of the books I read with particularly beautiful prose are usually not also page-turners (in terms of plot action), but The Light Between Oceans bridges that gap.
I can't end this review without giving a thumbs-up to Stedman's use of setting, which plays a huge role in the atmosphere of this novel: both post-war Australia in general, and Janus Rock/the lighthouses in particular. I've read very few books set in Australia, but this one combined the physical location with a rich history that really submerged me into the story. Plus, the isolation of Tom and Isabel's life on Janus Rock was a key element to many of the major plot points, and that sense of remoteness was palpable in their everyday lives.
Five stars on Goodreads, and going on the favorites list. I haven't been able to say that in a while! This book was so much more than I expected, and I'll definitely be picking it up for re-reads in the future.
What was your last 5 star read? Have you read any other good novels set in Australia? (This is not a setting that I've visited in my fiction very often!)