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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS--A BEAUTIFUL, PAINFUL NOVEL

M.L. Stedman’s first novel, The Light Between the Oceans, is a beautifully composed rendition of life at its cruelest, when justice for one means tragic injustice for another.  There are no villains here, but there are victims, and Stedman’s tale shoots out theme after theme making her readers take a serious look at what it takes for some of us to make it through our daily lives.  Read it but be prepared for tears.

Thomas Sherbourne returns from his WWI years on the Western front a shattered man reminiscent of Hemingway’s Nick Adams—an existential man trying to make an orderly life from the chaos surrounding him.  What he had done during the war earned him medals and only a superficial scar for others to see, but it shattered him inside, filling the cracks with survivor’s guilt, and leaving him looking for a steadying routine.  The idea of duality occurs time and again throughout the novel.

Tom finds the order he seeks on Janus Rock, an isolated lighthouse 100 miles off the coast of Australia in the treacherous Indian Ocean.  (peace in the midst of upheaval) The detailed routine of following the multitude of rules, keeping the signal light operating at optimum condition, recording the minute details of time, weather, and other observations force him to reintroduce a workable rhythm to his life and to make some sense of his world.  Difficult for others, this life suited young Tom perfectly.

When he meets, falls in love, marries Isabel, and brings her to Janus, he feels his life is as good as any man can have it, but after a series of miscarriages and a stillborn baby, Isabel sinks into deep despair until what she considers a miracle occurs. 

Sorry friends, but you will have to read The Light Between the Oceans yourself to move on from here and find out what Isabel considers a miracle.  Tom considered it more of a mixed blessing, to say the least.

 As Rob was not going to read the novel, I told him the story as it unfolded, and he enjoyed its retelling, the two of us guessing what was to happen next.  We could not help it.  This story has multi-barbed hooks for the reader.

Stedman is a wonderful writer.  She handles language beautifully, switching tenses to bring immediacy to some sections and time for contemplation in others.  The story moves smoothly and delves into a myriad of life’s possibilities:  war and its results, loss and recovery, love, man’s isolation—both physically and psychologically, the big lie that cannot be withdrawn, prejudice, forgiveness, and redemption.  I have probably left out some possibilities, but that’s already a lot to cram into 342 pages and to do it well!

Hemingway’s Nick Adams going through the steadying routine of fly-fishing in “Big Two-Hearted River” or Macbeth’s musing “Things without all remedy/Should be done without regard/What’s done is done” come to mind throughout the novel.  These ideas are universal in man; they do not change over time, and close as they are, Tom and Isabel Sherbourne have to find their own paths through life’s vagaries once each learns that life isn’t fair.

This is a novel worth reading, and I am looking forward to M.L. Stedman’s next book.









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