The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans is the debut novel by London attorney M. L. Stedman, published on July 31st, 2012. The main characters, a WWI veteran and his wife, find themselves living on an island off the coast of Western Australia tending a lighthouse. Stedman writes with great knowledge and conviction of the area, which is her home territory, and her passion for the region swells from within, in the book’s imagery. She said a mental picture of a woman and a lighthouse is what inspired her to write this book. She followed the mental thread and the story unfolded across the pages.
Several characters throughout the book face difficult ethical dilemmas. Even cocooned upon Janus Rock, decisions that the couple makes have profound unforeseen effects on others, and the poor decision becomes a question of being of low integrity or human weakness. It is the clash between moral truth and human instinct. The survivor-guilt-ridden, rule-observing lighthouse keeper sacrifices his principles to accommodate and placate, for better or for worse, his traumatized barren wife. At times, we may perceive that our decisions impact only ourselves, the decision makers, and this is accentuated by the isolation of Janus Rock, but in reality, everyone is affected in ways that we were blind to, as becomes evident when the truth emerges. Although it’s obvious that the title refers to the lighthouse, could it also be symbolic of the happiness that the couple felt on its island when they found and raised Lucy? I believe so. I found that although some made poor decisions, the style of writing and character presentation helped the reader to understand each character, and ultimately feel some sympathy for them. I confess that I don’t have the drive to have babies, and this left me at a bit of a loss for Isabel’s emotions surrounding her inability to breed. While “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes” is a common old saying, one must understand that what one person might feel to be good and moral may be different from another’s viewpoint. To be human is a complex scenario that is bound to see errors in its course, but as the decisions age, they become more complex and difficult to untangle, and the consequences more costly. It’s through compassion and mercy that will allow society to heal when we do error, as we saw in the end when Hannah decided that forgiveness and sympathy were the better route over revenge. I also feel that Stedman is trying to emphasize that there are more areas the shade of grey, than black and white. Who was the perfect one to raise Grace/Lucy? While the Germans were the enemy during WWI and WWII, Hannah’s husband was innocent, and suffered at the hands of veterans and a community who had suffered at the hands of Germans. Is this justified? Is this excusable, or prosecutable?
“The town draws a veil over certain events. This is a small community, where everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember. Children can grow up having no knowledge of the indiscretion of their father in his youth, or the illegitimate sibling who lives fifty miles away and bears another man’s name. History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.” (Page 155, para. 7)
Prevalent throughout the text is loss of love, or in the very least, the fear of its loss. Without love, a very basic human need, does life have any meaning? This is what each character must decide for his or herself, as well as the sources of that love. The storyline was well-structured and moved fluidly and consistently across the timeline, possibly a credit to Stedman’s career as an attorney. Weaving along the coast of Western Australia, the story finally concludes in the only way it realistically could. It’s not the fairytale ending we’ve come to expect of our childhood stories, but it concluded in a realistic and believable denouement.
This novel was voted as the Historical Novel of the Year – 2012 by the GoodRead’s reading community and was on the New York Times Best Seller list. An interesting note is that Dreamworks scooped up the Hollywood movie rights, and have David Heyman (Harry Potter) lined up to produce the feature.