Sometimes a book will just take me in its arms and carry me away. That’s how I feel about The Light Between Oceans. I really felt carried away by this story of love and heartbreak on an island of Australia’s coast.
“There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon…And the sound is the roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needs most.”
Tom is a veteran of World War I, described by others (never by himself) as a hero, who signs on to be a lighthouse keeper. He craves the solitude, the exactitude, the rules inherent in months on Janus with a single task to occupy him. Of course, while on leave, he falls in love, and despite his better judgment, marries Isabelle, a mainlander, and attempts to open his heart to happiness and family on Janus.
I have to admit, this is not the sort of premise that would normally engage my interest, so I’m grateful to the friends and Goodreads community members who raved about this novel. M.L. Stedman transforms what could have been a typical romance into a story of moral complexity and inner turmoil. In Tom we meet a man who is torn apart struggling between his honest nature and his desire to do right by Isabelle. We know he has witnessed untold horror in the war and considers himself unworthy of happiness and yet his basic goodness makes him an ideal hero.
“You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and monsters….At night, Tom began to dream he was drowning, flinging his arms and legs desperately to find ground somewhere, but there was nothing to stand on, nothing to hold him afloat except a mermaid…”
What surprised me was how interesting Stedman makes the island and the lighthouse. The lighthouse becomes an extended metaphor for the underlying hope in this book. Her descriptions of life on Janus, the care of the light and the larger ideas of what that beacon represents for others are what elevate this book from good story to great novel.
Plus, to my eternal gratitude, she doesn’t make it easy or neat. It’s the kind of book you want to read in a cozy spot, wrapped in a blanket, with a box of tissues handy.
“He turned his attention to the rotation of the beam, and gave a bitter laugh at the thought that the dip of the light means that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.”
While writing this review, I kept hearing Jon Troast‘s song, With a Smile Like That. I couldn’t find video, but here are the lyrics and, if you don’t know his music, I encourage you to give him a listen.