I couldn’t help but feel the invisible authorial hand behind The Light Between Oceans. By which I mean that the story felt a tad too tidily plotted. The grief and the heartbreak were all in too much perfect proportion and with the correct justifications for me to not be aware of the writer behind the story.
Tom Sherbourne is the moral center of the story. A WW1 veteran, he and his wife Isabel live on the tiny island of Janus where Tom works as a lighthouse keeper (do those still exist?). The couple suffers three miscarriages before the ocean washes up a weeks-old baby onto their shore. You can sense can’t you, that things are bound to get complicated and messy for these people?
M.L. Stedman is really good at writing fully fleshed out characters. They hooked me in. It’s easy to foresee the plot twists and I could guess at the scars that the characters were on their way to accruing. I became interested in knowing what they would do with those scars.
Tom’s desire, to do right by his wife whom he loves more than life itself, and by his conscience which he has come about through the horrors of a war, and the conflict between the two causes the tension in the story, and moves the plot forward.
Apart from the characters the other thing that Stedman does really well is the highly atmospheric setting. It is the late 1920s and the action flits between Janus, and a small port town, Partageuese, on the coast of Western Australia. The isolation of a strip of land in the middle of nowhere is captured perfectly. Here’s how Janus is described:
[L]inked only by the store boat four times a year, [Janus] dangled off the edge of the cloth like a loose button that might easily plummet to Antarctica.
On clear summer days, Janus seems to stretch up right to its tiptoes: you’d swear it’s higher out of the water at some times than at others, not just because of the rising and ebbing of tide.
Stedman switches between tenses quite a bit (as you can see above). Quite nifty, the technique is, as the present continuous use builds a sense of immediacy.
The writing is also lyrical at times. And was perhaps the third reason I kept reading. Yes, I do feel like I need to list the reasons why I kept reading because. . . while it’s a well-crafted story there’s nothing particularly special about it. Plus, there’s a movie coming out this year based on the book (speaking of the reasons why. . .).
So that’s what I think of The Light Between Oceans. Did you read it too?