“Then he wakes and he’s in a place where there’s just wind and waves and light, and the intricate machinery that keeps the flame burning and the lantern turning. Always turning, always looking over its shoulder./If he can only get far enough away–from people, from memory–time will do its job.” M. L. Stedman, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS was published in July of 2013 and is 352 pages. I purchased an audiobook of the novel for my travels, and it was exquisitely narrated by Noah Taylor. Though it broke my heart over and over again, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is one of my favorites of 2013.
Beginning in the years after the first World War in Australia, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is the story of Tom Sherbourne, a decorated war veteran who seeks employment and solitude as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island far off the coast of the continent. On leave from the island, Tom meets and falls in love with spirited, young Isabel Graysmark, and the two marry and begin their lives together on Janus.
After a series of tragic miscarriages, a grieving Isabel hears the cries of a baby on the breeze. At first she thinks it is her imagination, but she quickly learns that a boat has washed ashore carrying a dead man and a baby–very much alive, and in need of care. Against Tom’s better judgment, he respects Isabel’s wish to wait on reporting the incident, and Isabel soon has the child at her breast. Days turn into weeks, which grow to months, and then to years, and the Sherbournes, at Isabel’s prompting, come to think of the baby they call Lucy as a gift from God for their own losses. The world believes Lucy belongs to them, and Tom and Isabel continue the lie until they are confronted with the terrible truth of Lucy’s parentage, forcing them to wake from their dream to a living nightmare.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is morally complex, beautifully written, and emotionally compelling. The characters are fully realized and layered, and face dilemmas to which there are no easy answers. Right and wrong become tangled until it is impossible to distinguish one from the other, and the human cost resulting from Tom and Isabel’s bad decisions and lies is high.
This is a book that wants to be discussed, so I recommend you read it with a book club or friend. The characters and their shared and private pain haunt me, and will continue to do so long after I’ve finished the story. I miss the characters, and know they have made a lasting impression on me as a reader and a writer.
If you enjoy evocative novels that challenge your beliefs, you will be entranced by THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. It is profoundly affecting, and is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I give it my highest recommendation.