Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
You know those books. Everyone posts 5/5 reviews for it, it becomes known as the ‘buzz’ book, it becomes a favourite for bookclubs, it wins literary awards, and soon Hollywood snaps it up to bring it to life on the big screen. But you arrive late (as usual) and wonder if you’re going to be scratching your head about the fuss. The Light Between Oceans is one of those books. And after reading it I can assure all other latecomers it’s worthy of every piece of praise that’s been placed upon its brilliant pages.
I think probably everyone has heard the plot’s basic premise. After the trauma of WW1, Tom isolates himself from society by working as a lighthouse keeper. He meets and marries Isabel, and together they go to live on an island off Western Australia. One day a boat washes up with a baby on board. Due to various reasons, they tell no one about this. No secret can be safe forever, however, and the consequences of their actions with the baby on the island soon come crashing down around them.
I think the last part is the bit I enjoyed the most. It’s quite obvious as you’re reading that they will be found out, but I guess I never really thought through just how horrific that reality would become, meaning I found the final part of the book tension ridden. I had heard tissues would be needed near the end, so I was literally on the edge of my seat. And yes, tissues were needed.
Stedman’s writing is beautiful. Again, it is difficult to fathom that this is her debut novel. Each sentence seems to be chosen with care and I didn’t feel like I was bogged down in boring detail or superfluous passages. In fact, although the book is clearly literature, it felt like a speedy short read. (I did have a giggle at some of the reviews that were confused over the Aussie slang.)
The setting was not only important to the storyline, it also offered a delightful window into the history of lighthouses and Australia in general. (I am astounded at the casting of non-Australians in the three major roles for the film version. Grrrr. I keep having to repeat to myself that Australian actors steal major roles in the UK & US all the time to remain calm!)
Even though the book is set post-WW1, that war plays an enormously important role in the novel. Without a doubt, none of the characters would have acted the way they did if the shadow of the Great War wasn’t darkening their lives.
The same can be said of the setting. This isn’t quite Lord of the Flies, but the separation from the mainland and its sensibilities does escalate the illogical decisions made by all the involved characters.
I don’t want to give any further spoilers, so I’ll just say read the thing.
5 out of 5, adding to my favourites.