Book Review

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Good readers rejoice! As I finally present to you my review for M.L. Steman’s The Light Between Oceans. I know it’s been almost 4 weeks since my last book review, so feel free to celebrate privately by reading my long awaiting review that should have been done last week but as this four-eyed owl explained earlier, had school chores that needed to be dealt with.

Thank you for your patience, good reader.


The Four-Eyed Owl

Now for the review:

the light between oceans

Number of pages: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Format: paperback

Rating: older adults

Genre: moral fiction, historical

Notes: this is M.L. Stedman’s first book


Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a wife, Isabel. Years later, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world.

My thoughts:

Life as a lighthouse keeper is tough; not only is the keeper responsible for keeping logs and overseeing the light that shines across the ocean, but there’s also the isolation, desolation and the fear of being alone. Although Tom Sherbourne’s life changed for the better when he married Isabel and took her to live with him on Janus Rock, the couple still feels small and lonely as they’re miles away from civilization. So Isabel tries to fill up the void by having a family, but after 3 miscarriages she feels like she’s failed Tom and herself, and her desolation on the island overwhelms her as she’s overcome with sorrow and grief for her lost children.

But Fate works in mysterious ways as Isabel hears a baby’s cries, and Tom, always on the alert for the unexpected did not expect to see a dead man in a boat with a living baby in his arms. If you were in his shoes, your immediate reaction is to report the incident immediately while taking care of the baby and ensuring its rapid recovery. But what to do when a wife, whose lost 3 newborns and her only wish is to have a family, looks at the baby and falls in love with it as if it were her own? Tom tries to talk her out of it, but Isabel insists that they keep her, all the while testing Tom’s love for her.

Tom clearly loves his wife as they hold an inseparable bond since the day they exchanged their wedding vows that are like life-long promises to each other. But Isabel makes a compelling argument that changes Tom’s mind: “Love’s bigger than rule books, Tom. If you’d reported the boat, she’d be stuck in some dreadful orphanage by now.”  A man bounded by rules and morals decides to give in as his love for Isabel is stronger and is the only thing that keeps him happy on Janus Rock. But his reason is far deeper as Tom feels like he owes Isabel this happiness.

Since they day he brought her on Janus Rock, Tom tries vainly to make her life easier on the island as he worries how Isabel copes with her new living surroundings. Gestures like repairing the piano so Isabel could practice and lying on the grass together to gaze at the open sky is what Tom offers her as he shows that life on the island isn’t always dreary. But Isabel is a young and bold woman who makes her own choices on how to confront her new environment, just as she’s bold enough to come face-to-face with Tom’s judgment and insists that the baby is “a gift from God.”

By the time they visit the mainland, both Tom and Isabel are reminded that there are other people in the world and that their choice has consequences. Fate certainly does work in mysterious ways…

Oscar Wilde quoted “no good deed goes unpunished” it’s sad and yet true as we eventually discover what Tom and Isabel’s good actions lead to. I wouldn’t say they meant any harm, as their actions are purely unintentional. Simply put, they had no idea what or how their choices might have hurt another human being, and if they knew who they were hurting, they might not have settled on their decision. But as they do find out Tom and Isabel begin to question what’s right and wrong, and what’s good for the child as she grows to love and see them as family. Even Tom has trouble disassociating himself from the baby, “however did you turn up in my life/however did you make me feel like this?”

But what’s worse is the weight of the guilt that Tom has to carry and as the child grows, that weight becomes harder to bear and contain. More than once, Tom wishes to escape from this reality and into some “dream world” where he can get rid of the choice that he made, but Tom knows that he must see this to the end and with Isabel, the only person in his world that he never wanted to hurt. But will soon realize that his right thing to do would have to cause her pain in the end.

A beautiful and moving tale about love and loss, right and wrong, and the things that we do for our loved ones. Stedman’s description of the craggy landscape on Janus Rock and her storytelling abilities about a Samaritan couple whose suffered loss and is offered hope is immediately familiar as we’ve read stories that question our morality. The Light Between the Oceans is one of those stories, riveting readers from chapter one and engrossing us with a tale on what we do for our loved ones and their happiness.

I give this book 5 hoots out of 5.


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