Friday, August 3, 2012

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

After fighting in World War I and seeing more death than he can handle, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia to become a lighthouse keeper. Ultimately he winds up becoming the keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island where a supply boat only comes once every three months. But the hard work and the honor of being responsible for such a majestic and vital landmark is more than enough for Tom, until he meets Isabel Graysmark, a young woman whose playful spirit and zest for life awakens feelings in Tom he never thought he'd be worthy to experience.

Years later, after two miscarriages and a stillborn baby, Tom and Isabel are weathering the isolation of Janus Rock and wondering how to handle the crushing emptiness they feel. One day, a boat washes up on shore, carrying the body of a man and an infant, whose cries awaken Isabel's maternal spirit. She convinces Tom, a man who pays meticulous attention to detail and the rules governing lighthouses all over Australia, to hold off reporting the ship and the baby, just for a few days. And this decision has powerful ramifications not only in their lives, but the lives of their family and friends, and those who wondered what happened to the man and the baby on that fateful day.

In this haunting book, M.L. Stedman visits a familiar plot point—the split second decision that affects the futures of many—but does so in a gripping and affecting way. You know what Tom and Isabel have done is wrong, but you certainly sympathize with their choice and the guilt they feel, but then you realize just how many people this decision ultimately hurts. And Stedman is able to keep you guessing; just when you believe the story will take one direction, you find yourself surprised, but that doesn't affect the power of the story. As one character says, "Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot 'em both, and then it’s too late." There is a vividness and a heart to this story that is unforgettable.

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