M.L.Stedman: The Light Between Oceans (2012)

The Light Between Oceans

A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.

They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.

Last week I went to a book shop and saw a neatly arranged table with the titles of the long list of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I read most blurbs and browsed a few books and finally ended up buying The Light Between Oceans.

Tom and Izzy live on an island off the Australian coast, near Point Partageuse. Tom is haunted by memories of WWI. The things he saw, the men he killed. He was reluctant at first to let Izzy come closer, didn’t want to take this young lively woman with him on a forlorn island. While he loved being a lighthouse keeper, didn’t mind the loneliness and how barren the island was, he was not so sure it would be the right place for a woman. But Izzy loved him and wanted to follow him.

Their first months on the island are bliss but when Izzy loses her first baby things start to darken. When a boat with a dead man and a little baby are washed ashore, Izzy has just miscarried for the third time. Seeing the tiny infant makes her loose perspective and she convinces Tom that it is the right thing to keep the child. Of course it isn’t the right thing and the tragedy is programmed. The book has a handful of main protagonists and it’s amazing to watch one after the other make bad decisions.

I have to tell you right away, I didn’t like this book. To some extent I even hated it. It’s sentimental, melodramatic, mawkish… I’m maybe the only one as most people loved it. I was wondering why on earth this was on the Women’s Prize for Fiction long list. The writing is quite artless. I expected something more sophisticated. There is nothing stylish or special about it. It’s the type of book Jodi Picoult could have written, only I’d say she would have done a better job. The exploration of a moral dilemma, what is right, what is wrong, make this a book many book clubs will love to discuss.

I have this habit that I must finish books and it annoys me often. On the other hand, even this book improved on the last 150 pages. The first choice they make is to keep the baby but later Tom and Izzy and a few other people make other choices and some of those are much more interesting.

What made me hate the book was Izzy and the way everyone spoke about and to the baby: “Sweet thing”, “Sweetheart”, “Little one”, “Darling”…. Every character in this book is constantly cooing over the child. That got on my nerves big time.

What I liked was how she evoked this lonely lighthouse. We get a really good feel for what it must be like to be a lighthouse keeper, to be confined to an island for 3 – 6 months without any contact with the outside world.

While I hated Izzy, I really liked her husband Tom. The portrayal of a man who has survived the trenches of WWI but never manages to shake this experience was well done.

The only thing that was very positive is the fact that M.L.Stedman made me understand Izzy in the end despite the fact that I hated her big time.

It was very interesting to see my reaction. Usually – and contrary to many readers – I don’t love or hate characters in books. The things I love are descriptions, style, atmosphere, mood. The experience to hate a character was unsettling. I wonder what it says about me that I reacted so strongly. The idea that someone thinks it’s OK to steal  someone else’s child and keeps on saying it’s for the child’s good, made me so angry. I thought it was a very violent act. 

If you like books which explore moral dilemmas and choices, you might like this. It’s certainly a book that can generate interesting discussions.

Halfway through the novel I noticed that it consists almost exclusively of scenes. No wonder the film rights have already been sold.

Has anyone else read this book? Did you like it?