Having read a number of excellent novels recently, I had a hard time deciding which one to write about! I finally decided on the one I just finished, which the Boston Globe described as a “beautifully delineated tale of love and loss, right and wrong, and what we will do for the happiness of those most dear.”
The Light Between Oceans, the debut novel by M. L. Stedman, is a book that challenges our thinking when we see characters struggling with secrets kept, their consequences and with decisions that are impossibly difficult.
The book is set mainly on a tiny island off the southwest coast of Australia about a century ago. The main characters, Tom and Isabel, are a young couple who have been assigned to the island as the lighthouse keepers. It is a very isolated existence; they see the crew of the supply boat every few months and are allowed a one-month leave on the mainland every three years.
After suffering two miscarriages and losing another near-term baby, Isabel is devastated. When a boat carrying a dead man and a live baby drifts ashore, she feels the baby is a gift from God. Against his better judgment and because of his love for Isabel, Tom agrees to keep the incident secret. They bury the man’s body and begin raising the baby girl as their own, thinking that surely the mother has drowned.
When secrets are kept and lies are told, it all begins to multiply and the choices made get more complicated, especially when they begin to affect other people’s lives. Readers are torn when justice for one seems to create tragic loss for another. This is a story that needs to be shared with friends or discussed with a book group.
Kirkus Reviews gave the novel high praise: “The miraculous arrival of a child in the life of a barren couple delivers profound love but also the seeds of destruction. Moral dilemmas don’t come more exquisite than the one around which Australian novelist Stedman constructs her debut.”
A vividly described, rugged island setting, characters one comes to understand and care about, and moral questions that seem to have no right answer all blend with escalating tension to the final pages and make this a book I will long remember and recommend!
Kathleen Pohlig is owner of Cherry Street Books in Alexandria.