Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There's a bit of Adam, Eve, and the apple tree in The Light Between Oceans. Early in the novel Isabel entices Tom to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives.

Throughout the book the decisions the female characters make seem to be responses to emotions while the male characters are more deliberate and thoughtful. I started thinking about this aspect of the novel when late in the story one of the minor male characters committed a betrayal and the blame was placed on his mother. The major characters are the same, specifically Isabel, whose reaction to the arrival of the baby as well as her anger as the book goes on are gut level responses. Yet all the characters in the book are complex and fully developed, so I don't think this hurts the novel. In fact, I think it makes it more interesting. I wonder if part of this is do to the time and place. The Light Between Oceans is set in western Australia shortly after World War 1. The difference between fighting in a war and the two tasks of waiting for loved ones then dealing with the emotional and physical damage done to them, would likely create a situation where the distinction between the ways men and women think would be exaggerated. This would be compounded by living in a rural area where gender roles are forced to be more distinct.

I listened to the audio version of this book and want to echo a comment made by other reviewers. The reader was hard to understand. I'm American, so part of this was my ear and his Australian accent, but more than that it was his decision to speak with a soft, introspective voice.

The book is emotional, sometimes even sappy, when drawing a picture of the relationship between young Lucy and Tom and Isabel. I was also bothered by a few coincidences. But overall I thought it was a great read. There were times when I couldn't stop listening, especially toward the end.

What is best about this novel is the beautiful, careful description of the isolated lighthouse island and how that setting is woven into the experiences of the characters. Here's the opening to the book:

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted.

“...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” she whispered.

For just a moment, her mind tricked her into hearing an infant's cry. She dismissed the illusion, her eye drawn instead by a pod of whales weaving their way up the coast to calve in the warmer waters, emerging now and again with a fluke of their tails like needles through tapestry. She heard the cry again, louder this time on the early-morning breeze. Impossible.

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