The Light Between Oceans
Chocolate is not my favorite thing. When I taste good chocolate, I can appreciate that it’s good chocolate. I just don’t have the kind of visceral, emotional reaction to it that a chocolate lover would have. Instead, I think, “Oh, my mom would love this.”
For me, this debut novel by M.L. Stedman is a lot like chocolate. The book is pretty well written, has interesting characters, and raises some tough moral questions. It has been a long-time best-seller, and I can understand why people love it. It just doesn’t resonate with me personally in the same way, and I think that is due in large part to the fact that I don’t have kids.
Here is the setup: A young, decorated World War I veteran is heading to his new post as a lighthouse keeper on a tiny island off the coast of Australia. During his few days on the mainland before he leaves for his new job, he meets a girl. She is carefree, joyful, spontaneous, and feisty. And he is smitten. The two fall in love and get married, and she joins him on lonely, lovely Janus Rock.
A boat brings them provisions every three months, but otherwise they are alone on the island. They decide to start a family, but the wife suffers two miscarriages. She becomes pregnant again, but the baby is stillborn at seven months. She is devastated and fears she won’t be able to have kids. She is beginning to lose the hope and joy that characterize her.
Then, only two weeks after the stillbirth, a small boat washes ashore carrying two passengers: a dead man and a crying baby. The baby girl is wrapped in a woman’s sweater, but there is no other sign of her mother. The husband’s duty as lighthouse keeper is to document the boat and its passengers and to signal for help immediately. But his wife believes the baby must be a gift from God. She begs her husband to wait just one night before he makes his report and signals the police.
The book follows the couple’s subsequent decisions—some mutual, some unilateral. It explores the motivations that drive their decision-making, including desperation, duty, selfishness, hope, and love. It reveals the results of the choices they make: some strain their relationship and threaten to drive them apart, some cause immense suffering, and some bring them and others love, hope, and happiness.
The conflicts they face and the choices they make are complex and thought-provoking. And the characters are well developed enough that you care what they do and what will result from their decisions. Despite their flaws (and, at times, terrible decision-making), you want them to be OK–both individually and together.
Rating: 3.5/5 👶
Some of the intensity of the heart-wrenching dilemmas was lost on me, because I don’t have kids. I got it, but I didn’t get it. I think parents would identify much more strongly with the characters and the choices they make than I did.
The chocolate lovers (i.e., who should read it): This is what I would call a “Mom book.” A few short years ago, that would have meant that it’s a book that I would only recommend to my mom or stepmom or someone from their generation. But, these days, many of my friends are moms—moms with new babies (like Eds and Rachel), soon-to-be moms (like Shana and Sohair), and moms who are old pros (like Danielle and Toya). I would recommend this book to all of them, too.
Also, this would be a good read for a book club. There’s lots of fodder for book-clubby discussion.