February 04, 2015

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Publisher: Black Swan
Release date: 2012
Pages: 461


* You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery, between man and monsters. The rules that said you took a prisoner rather than killed a man. The rule that said you let the stretchers cart the enemy off from no man's land as well as your own men.*

A boat washes up on the shores of a remote lighthouse keeper's island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
 * And Janus Rock, linked only by the store boat four times a year, dangled off the edge of the cloth like a loose button that might easily plummet to Antartica.*

In the Australian post-war world, life goes on. People who experienced the Great War directly or indirectly try and go on with their life although nothing will ever be the same. In Point Partageuse, situated on the western part of the continent, there are few men and the prospects are rather dull for young girls. However, when Isabel meets Tom Sherbourne, a young and handsome young man who has just come back from the battlefield, she is convinced that everything is about to change. She decides to marry him and they begin a new life together for the better and for the worse. The first part sets the background for the story and the characters relationship. It is a good introduction including historical facts, geographical details and personal information about the characters.
Tom is lighthouse keeper on Janus, so Isabel follows him, but life on Janus is lonely and harsh. Like the characters, the reader will experience mixed feelings about this place, at the same time beautiful and threatening, magical and oppressive. Page after page, we discover what it means to be a lighthouse keeper and live outside the world all year round, apart from a yearly visit on the continent. Isabel and Tom live for the Light and for their mutual love, but things do not always go as expected… and people sometimes make bad decisions. When they find a boat holding a baby and a dead man, Tom and Isabel have to make a decision which is about to change their lives forever… and that of many other people as well.
The second part of the book takes place on Janus. The rhythm is rather slow and we can feel the loneliness and the repetitiveness of the life on the small island. We also get to know the characters and the developments of their relationships, which slowly deteriorates until the ‘day of the miracle’: the day on which the boat was washed up on the shore. The moment is miraculous in Isabel’s eyes, but wretched in Tom’s eyes. They have to make a decision, but no option seems right. M.L. Stedman describes beautifully the dilemma they face and their existential thoughts: what is right? What has to be done in the baby’s interest? How to respect one’s duty without destroying someone else?
The third part takes place back on the continent after everything collapsed. Although we felt something would eventually go wrong, it is heart-rending to see it happen. The characters are kept apart and each of them has got its own way of responding to grief. For their part, the readers are torn between two sides. We want to hate the characters who caused so much harm, but we understand them so well all the same that we end up confused. Like we knew that Tom and Isabel’s decision was a bad decision, we know the story cannot have a happy-ending, but cannot help hoping for one.
The Light Between Oceans is a very moving novel which you will either love or hate. There is no in between. The plot might seem too predictable and the characters too stereotypical to be realistic, but it raises important questions which can touch just about anybody. The author’s style is fluid and precise and we can see it evolve along the pages. The first part is rather factual and descriptive and it is rather difficult to know what the characters really feel, which creates a little suspense. In the third part, however, we discover the whole range of emotions felt by the various characters… and it will be difficult not to shed a tear. I recommend this novel to those who like beautiful if sad stories and want to discover a different kind of life.

1 comment:

  1. Il est dans ma bibliothèque..J'ai bien envie de le sortir maintenant..En revanche, ça sera une lecture en français...je regrette presque de ne pas l'avoir pris en anglais !


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