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Book Reviewed: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
No matter how just a war may be, its ramifications send ever-widening ripples through people, situations and time. In M. L. Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, Australian Tom Sherbourne carries scars from having done things in war he wants to forget, but cannot. The demons rise to haunt his dreams and taint his daylight musings. When World War I ends, he seeks distance from the battlefields, ready for time to do its healing work. Keeping a lighthouse seems a good plan.
The Janus Lighthouse, which sits at the crossroads of the Indian and the Southern Oceans, derives its name from the two-faced Roman god whose one face looked at what was, while the other peered into what-will-be. The symbolism plays throughout the book. Tom flees a hard childhood and horrific war memories for a bright future with Isabelle, his new wife. Isabelle, barely out of her teens, leaves behind life on the mainland for a happy-ever-after existence with this man she loves deeply and the children they will have. But as crashing waves erode the rocky shore, so two miscarriages and one stillbirth eat at Isabelle’s heart and hope.
Then a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live infant. Who is the man; where is the baby’s mother; what should they do? Tom knows to send a distress signal and record the event in the lighthouse log, but for his wife’s sake does not. Isabelle rationalizes her way into motherhood. Lucy (the name means “light,”) saves Isabel and she starts to heal. Tom begins to come apart. He ponders Lucy’s future, a life built on a lie he helped craft.
Eventually, they discover Lucy’s birth mother and the couple at the Janus Lighthouse faces a dilemma for which there are only heart-wrenching answers, whatever they choose.
Stedman’s stunning novel is rich with brilliant writing. She portrays people at their most raw, and the reader finds herself vacillating between opposing emotions and resolutions.
I won’t say more, for it would compromise an exceptionally good read. Have Kleenex handy and know the story isn’t a fairy tale, but a dramatic, thought-provoking rendering of the truth that actions have consequences. And look for more from this accomplished author.
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