For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

Posted on: July 28, 2013

The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman, Scribner, 2012, 345 pp.


What a beautiful novel!  Oh, just a treat from beginning to end. Graceful prose, captivating characters, page-turning story–a delight in every way.

The Light Between Oceans tells the story of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne. Tom is a veteran of the First World War who becomes a lighthouse keeper because the order and isolation kept his soul secure from the reminders of war. He is assigned to the Janus Rock, a small, otherwise uninhabited island miles from the shore on the southwestern edge of Australia. The boat comes bearing supplies only four times a year, and the lighthouse keeper may only take leave from the island every three years. He meets Isabel on his first shore leave, and they correspond before being married. Isabel loves the isolated Janus, but despairs after a series of miscarriages. When a boat washes up on shore bearing a dead man and a live infant, it seems like a miracle. Tom and Isabel begin to treat the child as their own. Once Isabel loves the child, there is no turning back–even though the lie threatens to destroy everything. It’s a powerful story about grief, marriage, secrets and a mother’s love.

Just a few passages to cherish:

About life in the Partaguese, the small shore town closest to Janus:

The town draws a veil over certain events. This is a small community, where everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember. Children can grow up having no knowledge of the indiscretion of their father in his youth, or of the illegitimate sibling who lives fifty miles away and bears another man’s name. History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent. That’s how life goes on–protected by the silence that anesthetizes shame. (155)

From Ralph, who owns the supply boat that visits Janus every season:

Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late. (180)

From Frank, the child’s deceased father, on forgiveness:

It is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. … I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No… we always have a choice. All of us. (323)

The Light Between Oceans is a wonderful story, and recommended reading for all.

2 Responses to "Book Review: The Light Between Oceans"

I just finished this book after a friend recommended it. It’s complex (ethically and emotionally) and just wonderful.

Looking forward to it.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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