The novel is well written and easy to read. The sequence of events though follows a happy-ending drift and some of characters are a bit inconsistent.
The cancer had been finishing its work for months, nibbling the days from Isabel, and
there had been nothing to do but wait. He had held her hand for weeks, sitting by her bed.
Tom had caressed her hair, he had watched her thin chest rise and fall with that same uncertainty he remembered in Lucy’s when she first arrived on Janus: each breath a struggle and a triumph.
He was born to meet Isabel, that’s what he was put there for, he said.
His lips remembered that very first kiss decades before, on the windy beach in the setting sun: the bold, fearless girl guided only by her heart. He remembered her love for Lucy, instant and fierce and without question—the sort of love that, had things been different, would have been returned for a lifetime.
He had tried to show Isabel his love, in every act of every day for thirty years. But now, there would be no more days.
Tom knew all too well and she slipped away from him.
Even though they had electricity, he sat with just the soft glow of the kerosene lamp
to bathe her face: so much gentler, the light of a flame. Kinder. He stayed by the body all
night, waiting until dawn before telephoning the doctor. Standing to, like in the old days.
He thought back to Janus, and the light he cared for there for so long, every one of its flashes still traveling somewhere into the darkness far out toward the universe’s edge.
His arms still felt the tiny weight of Lucy’s baby, and the sensation unlocks the bodily memory of holding Lucy herself, and before that, the son he held in his arms so briefly.
How different so many lives would have been if he had lived. He breathes the thought for a long while, then sighs. No point in thinking like that. Once you start down that road,
there’s no end to it. He’s lived the life he’s lived. He’s loved the woman he’s loved. No one ever has or ever will travel quite the same path on this earth, and that’s all right by him. He still aches for Isabel: her smile, the feel of her skin. The tears he fought off in front of Lucy now trail down his face.
Every end is the beginning of something else.
Little Christopher has been born into a world Tom could never have imagined. Perhaps he’ll be spared a war, this boy? Lucy-Grace, too, belongs to a future Tom can only guess at. If she can love her
son half as well as Isabel loved her, the boy will be all right.
There are still more days to travel in this life. And Tom knows that the man who makes
the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way.
Soon enough the days will close over their lives, the grass will grow over their graves, until their story is just an unvisited headstone.
He watches the ocean surrender to night, knowing that the light will reappear.
What happens when an inexplicable event falls outside of our moral signposts? Without a universal compass, how does one decide what is the right thing to do? These are the questions M.L. Stedman examines in her achingly beautiful, gracefully written novel The Light Between Oceans.
Tom Sherbourne, honorably discharged from WWI combat, returns to his native Australia physically whole, but “scarred all the same.” Filled with an unnamed darkness, he enlists in the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service hoping that “if he can only get far enough away – from people, from memory – time will do its job.” Ultimately he lands a solitary position on Janus Rock, where he begins to find peace in the lighthouse keepers’ rules and regulations. Like Janus, the Roman god with two faces who looks both ahead and to the past, Tom is cursed with an ability to see life’s dualities, “torn between two ways of seeing things.” Simply maintaining the light house, lighting the flame each evening and extinguishing it every morning, and keeping the log book with its "gospel truth," helps tether Tom to this world and keep his internal darkness at bay.
During one shore leave, Tom meets and falls in love with Isabel Graysmark, a young woman who brings levity and light back into his life. They marry and return together to Janus. Two miscarriages leave Isabel heartbroken; a third stillborn child leaves her on the brink of sanity. Yet two weeks after they bury their unnamed child, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby. Isabel believes the baby is a “gift from God” and convinces Tom not to record the event but to raise the baby as their own : “Love’s bigger than rule books, Tom,” she tells him. Instead of reporting the truth, Tom leaves a space in the logbook hoping to change Isabel’s mind later. Although Tom loves Isabel and the baby, he also knows that recording the truth is the one act that can fight impending chaos. He is left with “a heaviness in his chest, and a sense of sliding back into the darkness he thought he had escaped.”
Two years later Tom and Isabel return to the mainland where they learn their decision has far reaching ramifications. Isabel’s parents, who lost two sons in the war, see the child as a new beginning, while others are left bereft. Their subsequent actions and reactions remind us that few decisions are made in a vacuum, and one person’s hope is another’s despair. As Tom sadly observes, “A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.”
Remarkably, Stedman does not favor one character over another, nor does she judge their actions. She is the log keeper, the story teller, and she relates the unfolding events truthfully and elegantly. There is no universal right or wrong here; like Janus, everyone is right and wrong, and it is up to the readers to decide with whom they agree
It begins slowly – which is not to say it’s dull in any way, only that the opening chapters open gently, like a flower, organically, naturally - as we grow to know first Tom, then Isabel, and get to know their insular, isolated island world. Then the baby arrives and the scene is set - though it’s not until almost half-way through the book that the real story begins to unfurl as Tom and Isabel’s perfect life unravels with surprising speed. The Light Between Oceans is not a thriller by any means, but the plot twists and turns as if it were.
It is a stunning work of fiction. Every character is completely believable; their motives, their actions - all entirely sane and credible, utterly realistic. Though every one of the main characters were at odds, everyone was sympathetic, every action and motive was understandable: you could truly feel for them all. Of course, there is no pat, easy, happy ending; the ending - like the beginning and the middle - is quietly surprising, wonderfully well executed and absolutely real.
The glorious writing, the feel for character, the consistently surprising plot, the delightful artistry and skill - are even more astonishing when you find that this is a debut novel. I expect to find The Light Between Oceans on more than one awards list. I can’t imagine how it won’t be one of my top novels of this year, and LM Stedman is definitely a writer to watch....Continua