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?

32 thoughts on “M.L.Stedman: The Light Between Oceans (2012)

  1. That’s one I should avoid.

    I’m with you about the “honey”, “sweetheart” and all that stuff. It would get on my nerves too.

        • I guess that’s one way of reading it but it didn’t sound like that to me. It was also rather integrated into he sentences not just at the end. But I’m not very used to hear Australians speak, you may be right.

  2. That book cover has been calling to me for some time, not sure why. I find it really hard to stick with a book if I hate one or more of the main characters. And I also feel like I have to finish a book once I’ve read 100 pages, unless it’s truly terrible. If Jodi Picoult could have done a better job, then count me out. I think her stuff is hugely overrated.
    Thank you for helping me dodge this bullet. 🙂

    • I had the same reaction when I saw the cover. There are others around now and one is much more revealing. It has alittle blond girl on it.
      I have only read one Jodi Picoult and found her less sentimental but it has a similar approach. Let charcaters deal with impossible choices…
      I don’t think this would be for you.

  3. Though I probably enjoy some aspects of the story, the moral dilemma, the isolated setting, over — sentimentality can be really annoying in a story.

    • I don’t think you’d like this judging from the books you read. The premise was interesting and I still wanted to know how she would end it but other than that….

  4. I saw this book before, I remembered telling my friend that the book has cute cover…but the blurb is not intriguing enough, and you have just confirmed it now 🙂

    If you like books which explore moral
    dilemmas and choices <<< I find this theme too heavy, I like thus kind of theme to appear in a fantasy or horror or thriller book 😉

    • I get you. I think it wasn’t a bad idea for a book like this, I had a problem with the sugar-sweet execution and because Izzy comes across as preytt nuts.
      I know you like Jodi Picoult but this one wouldn’t be for you.

  5. I wonder if I would have picked up on the nicknames. I feel bad, in our house we use nicknames but not cute ones. Miles is turd bird. If you knew his personality it would make more sense. Haven’t heard of this one and not sure I’ll pick it up. Is Mantel up for this award as well? I thought I saw her name among the list but can’t remember for sure now.

    • Yes, Mantel was in it as well.
      I enjoy nicknames but not stereotypical ones which signal “cutie” “sweet” … I call my male cat “Schmutzli”. In Switzerland Saint Nicholas walks around with a second figure who is dressed in black, with a dark hood like a monk. He is called “Schmutzli” – if you go and dig – it would come from “Schmutz” – dirty but it just has a funny sound.
      I call her “Pipinella” – which sounds like “pipistrello” – Italian for bat.
      I suppose if you read this with a book group it would be interesting to discuss but else…

  6. I’m so glad to read your review, as I’ve also seen this book about and wondered whether to read it. Answer: definitely not! I am very tender about books that I think are sentimental or emotionally manipulative. They drive me nuts. So, thankfully one I can avoid!

    • THe right reader will love this, that’s for sure but I would say this is decidedly not for you. It’s emotionally very manipulative and the main protagonist was so annoying.

    • I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. Funny, I just went to your blog to see whether you’ve reviewed it. It was a mini review together with the Yellow Birds. At the time I was only interested in that. I would rate this 1.5 if I rated books… I had the reverse reaction, I thought it was abit better later on- but thinking back – no – it was more like she wanted to prove a point.

    • I guess I wasn’t totally wrong in comparing them then? I read only one book by Picoult and must say I liked it and thought I’d like to read more of her some day.
      Yeah well, no this one did really not work for me. I see why it appeals but I really couldn’t take Izzy. I’ll be reading your review with interest.

      • Thanks for taking the time to read my review Caroline, I appreciate your comments and I like hearing a different reaction to books. I’ve read several Picoult novels and I do like them although there is a often a distinct pattern and similarity to the structure in the majority of them which can feel a bit repetitive.

        • I like reading other views as well. I just read a book called why we write and there is an interview with Jody Picoult. She’s a total planner, very perfectionist every book is carefully outlined which is a bit dangerous in my opinion. You might end up writing a book like you’d follow some cooking recipe.

  7. Too bad about this one–especially since I bought a copy myself! I am not a fan of sentimentality either so wonder what I will make of it (though I have no plans to read it soon). I think the atmosphere and setting are what appeal to me most, so maybe they make it worth reading?

    • I have no idea whether you would like this. Some whose taste I know quite well and who like similar books like me like Fence and Jackie didn’t like it either but both liked they way the setting was described.
      It starts with the core premise, a woman whose urge to have children is so intense that she loses her mind over not being able to give birth, —- I can so not relate to that feeling. It’s as if everyting else loses importance, life is only worth living when you can have a child…

  8. Interesting review, Caroline! The description of the book from the blurb sounds quite interesting and there is always something appealing about two people living alone in an island which has a lighthouse. So I am sorry to know that you didn’t like the book much. I also found it interesting that you hated Izzy. I feel that this actually might be a redeeming factor in the book, because if an author can make us put aside our neutrality to characters and make us like or hate one or more of them, then I feel the author might have done something right. I recently read a book which made me very angry and I normally don’t get angry while reading books. However, I don’t think I will be picking up this book anytime soon, because the last time I read a book which you said you didn’t like, I ended up not liking it too. So, if you say a book is not good, I am not even going near it 🙂

    • It’s nice of you to trust me like this. 🙂
      I dodn’t know whether you would like it. Maybe not hate it as much but not love it, I think. I did think it was interesting that she managed to make me hate Izzy like this and at the end, to some extent, still understand her. The descriptions were interesting but in a way it never felt like she was writing about Australia. I think I was quite disappointed because for some reason I thought that books nomintaed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction were more sophisticated.
      I really wonder now what book made you angry.

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