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The Light Between Oceans a Breathtaking Breakthrough

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • 2012 14 Aug
<i>The Light Between Oceans</i> a Breathtaking Breakthrough

Author: M. L. Stedman

Title: The Light Between Oceans

Publisher: Scribner

The year: 1926. The place: a tiny island off the coast of Australia. Isabel, mourning over the grave of yet another unborn child, hears the impossible: a baby's cry. It's her imagination, surely. The only human inhabitants of Janus Rock are her husband (the lighthouse keeper) and herself. And yet . . . 

It's a miracle—at least, that's how Isabel sees it. A small boat washed ashore with a dead man and a living baby inside; a sweater the only clue to the mother who must have gone overboard and perished. The poor little girl must be all alone in the world; what's the point in placing her in the system when there are two perfectly good parents just waiting for a child to love? They could apply for adoption, but that could take months and who would send a child to a couple on an isolated island? No one knows they lost their last baby. Surely this little one is God's gift . . . and so they keep her.

Not until it's much too late do they learn who their baby really is—and which family on the mainland still mourns her. When bringing one family back together will tear another one apart, what's a good man to do? That's the dilemma haunting Tom, Isabel's husband and erstwhile father of the child they call Lucy. He's an honorable man, a war hero, a man who's seen so much pain and loss he can't bear to inflict more on his wife. But he can't bear the pain of the mother who's lost her child, either. His conscience may well be his undoing . . . or possibly his salvation.

The Light Between Oceans is a heartrending tale of love and loyalty, grief and loss that will keep readers devouring every word, anxious to see what happens next. It's a compelling look at how one decision leads to another and the unintended consequences that can occur as a result. The story is so beautifully balanced it's hard to know who to root for. None of the characters is all good or bad, they're just people caught in an impossible situation. Stedman does a marvelous job of making the reader care about everyone; the depth of character development is matched by the depth of emotion.

The author perfectly navigates the fine line between sharing information, such as details of how the light in the lighthouse works, and keeping the story moving. The setting—Australia after World War I—is exotic enough to be fascinating and familiar enough to be comfortable. (The author is an Aussie by birth.) My only quibble with this lyrical novel is the odd (and to my mind, unnecessary) shifts between third and first person. They didn't stop the flow of the story but were small speed bumps along the way.

That aside, The Light Between Oceans is a breathtaking work that will linger in readers' hearts and minds long after the final page. That it's a first novel is astonishing. Hopefully we'll see many more from this talented author. 

*This Review First Published 8/15/2012