The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman is a riveting book, full of moral questions and emotional torment. It was one of those books that I found physically uncomfortable to read, because I found the story so painful at times. (That’s a good thing.)
The Light Between Oceans opens with Tom Sherbourne, an Australian WWI vet who escapes his painful childhood and terrible memories of the war by taking a position as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an island far off the western coast of Australia. He spends months at a time in isolation from the rest of the world. He strikes up a correspondence with Isabel, a young woman he met before moving to the island, and they ultimately fall in love and get married. Isabel moves with Tom to Janus Rock, where they live happily until Isabel suffers two miscarriage and a stillborn birth. Two weeks after the stillborn, a boat washes up on shore at Janus Rock. There is a dead man on the boat, along with an infant, who is miraculously alive.
The discovery of the boat sets the book’s moral dilemma into motion. Isabel, still blind with grief from her recent losses, falls instantly in love with the baby girl. Tom feels a strong duty to report the incident and the discovery of the baby, but Isabel begs him to wait. He very reluctantly agrees. The days turn into a month, and then a few months, and then years. The lie becomes more and more ingrained every day, as Tom, Isabel and Lucy cement into a family, and Isabel into a mother. Tom is always uncomfortable with his decision, but he ultimately cannot bring himself to deprive Isabel of the experience of being Lucy’s mother. And he himself feels great love for Lucy, which makes it even more difficult for him to do what he knows is right.
When Lucy turns two, the family returns to the mainland. On their last day there, they finally learn who Lucy is, and that she has a mother who is grief-stricken and looking for her. Tom becomes further tortured by the decision he made years earlier to cover up the discovery of the boat and the fact that Lucy isn’t their biological daughter.
I don’t want to say more about the story and how it is ultimately resolved. Stedman shows that there are no black-and-white answers; that most of the characters in the book are in impossible situations with incredibly painful options. I felt deeply for each of them. It was hard to read The Light Between Oceans because I knew that it was going to end badly for a lot of people… and it did. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good read. I actually really liked this book and had a hard time putting it down.
There are definitely a few implausible plot twists – like the baby surviving the shipwreck in the first place, as well as some too-convenient timing that happened later in the book. I also recognize that the story is predictable and melodramatic at times. I still liked it.
The audio… not so much. The narrator is Australian and very difficult to understand. It was a challenge to listen to it because he was marblemouthed and very quiet at times. His dialogue was okay, but the narration itself was just too hard. I enjoyed hearing the book spoken with an Australian accent, but I had to give up on it and revert to print.
I am sure that many of you have read The Light Between Oceans – did you enjoy it too?