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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I first saw this book in Australia, but I didn't buy it as, even though it was in paperback, Australian paperbacks cost as much as American hardcovers! I then started hearing a ton about the book and how amazing it was, so I lobbied for it for book club and luckily someone else had already read it and thought it was be a great discussion so it was picked.

After returning from WWI, Tom becomes a lighthouse keeper off the Western coast of Australia on an island. His wife Isabel has three tragic late-term miscarriages (the last one more of a stillbirth) and is bereft. One day, Tom finds a small boat that has washed up on shore with a dead man and a little baby. Isabel convinces Tom to keep the baby, Lucy, and that decision has repercussions for not only those three but many people in the nearby town, Partageuse, where Isabel is from.

It's hard to talk about the book without giving away too many spoilers although a few of the twists are easy to guess given the circumstances set up. A few members of our book club were horrified at Isabel's disloyalty to Tom. I found it interesting that I thought I could understand, even though I am one of the few members of book club with no children. I have felt that kind of betrayal and rage and I have wished very serious ill on people (not frequently and not recently, in fact mostly back in high school, but Isabel's only in her early 20s and so is still in that hormone-fueled overly-emotional phase of life, not to mention the postpartum hormones). The decisions made by the characters were, I felt, true to life but that meant some people made decisions that they later regretted or which were not ideal.

One thing I loved was how Australian the book felt, although I don't think the author was writing for an export market (although she now lives in London so perhaps nostalgia helped fuel the descriptiveness). And I loved that for once, Sydney didn't make a single appearance in the book. It's very cool to see another side of Australia that was very civilized and modern (for that time) and yet filled with quokkas and scorpions and deadly snakes. I thought both the place and the era were perfectly recreated and I really felt like I could wake up in Point Partageuse or on Janus Island, and feel at home.

The book was lyrical, tragic, filled with twists and turns (in the second half), and heart-wrenching emotions. I enjoyed it thoroughly. If you'd like to escape to another time and place and lose yourself in a beautiful and volatile story, this is the perfect book.

I was given this book as a gift. It was bought at an independent bookstore.

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