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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

The Light Between Oceans is a heartbreaking historical fiction debut novel

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Awards - Several Australian awards

Published 2012, 343 pages


The bare bones premise of this debut novel is that a young newlywed couple, him just back from the war (1926), take up residence in a lighthouse off the coast of Australia - isolated and lonely. The wife has several miscarriages and with each one becomes more depressed. Then, a boat comes ashore with a dead man and a live baby. What do they do?

This novel is fraught with moral dilemmas all stemming from the one decision made. It's easy to think you would or wouldn't make the same choices from the safety of your sofa, but in those circumstances, at that time? The problem is, once you start living a lie, you always live a lie. And there are consequences - consequences you can't possibly predict.

“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”

The narrator almost ruined this story for me. The Aussie accent was fine, but he tended to talk more softly and mumble as he got to the end of sentences, so I did miss more than a few words. Consequently I almost stopped listening, but I'm glad I stayed with it. The story got more gripping and emotionally charged as it progressed. I definitely don't recommend it as an audio book.

“The oceans never stop ... the wind never finishes. Sometimes it disappears, but only to gather momentum from somewhere else, returning to fling itself at the island ... Existence here is on the scale of giants. Time is in the millions of years; rocks which from a distance look like dice cast against the shore are boulders hundreds of feet wide, licked round by millennia ...”

I found the descriptions of the harsh, lonely, rock of an island vividly portrayed and evocative. Their attempts to make a home and family are endearing. Learning about the life of a lighthouse keeper (of the early 1900s) was fascinating. This book is about all kinds of love and portrayed in so many of the good, bad, and ugly manifestations it has.

The moral dilemma was aptly represented by both the husband and wife and I could empathize with both, though I got a bit tired of Isabel's point of view and earnest whining. I thought the struggles and anguish of each of the main characters was believable and it had a satisfactory and realistic ending.

This book could be a great book club read; so much to discuss.

photo via Avery Nielsen-Webb,

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