Summary and book reviews of The Light Between Oceans by Margot Stedman

The Light Between Oceans

A Novel

By Margot L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2012,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2013,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Winner of the BookBrowse 2012 Best Fiction Book Award

A captivating, beautiful, and stunningly accomplished debut novel that opens in 1918 Australia - the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds.

Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day's journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom's judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman's mesmerizing, beautifully written debut novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel's decision to keep this "gift from God." And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another's tragic loss.

Excerpt 1

Thousands of miles away on the west coast, Janus Rock was the furthest place on the continent from Tom's childhood home in Sydney. But Janus Light was the last sign of Australia he had seen as his troopship steamed for Egypt in 1915. The smell of the eucalypts had wafted for miles offshore from Albany, and when the scent faded away he was suddenly sick at the loss of something he didn't know he could miss. Then, hours later, true and steady, the light, with its five-second flash, came into view - his homeland's furthest reach - and its memory stayed with him through the years of hell that followed, like a farewell kiss. When, in June 1920, he got news of an urgent vacancy going on Janus, it was as though the light there were calling to him.

Teetering on the edge of the continental shelf, Janus was not a popular posting. Though its Grade One hardship rating meant a slightly higher salary, the old hands said it wasn't worth the money, which was meager all the same. The ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the novel's title, The Light Between Oceans. Why do you think the author selected this title? What do you visualize when you hear or read The Light Between Oceans?


  2. The novel is rich with detailed descriptions of the ocean, the sky, and the wild landscape of Janus Rock. Is there a particular passage or scene that stood out to you? What role does the natural world play in Tom and Isabel's life?


  3. "The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm - the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you're wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2012

Reviews

BookBrowse

With 27 out of 30 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, Margot L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans is a top pick among BookBrowse readers! Here's what they have to say:

This story drew me in from the first page. Compelling and provocative, it raises many questions about right and wrong, and the human heart's capacity for love and forgiveness. Gorgeously written - the people and settings spring to life from the pages - it's really an amazing first novel from this author. I hope to see more from her in the future (Lisa M). A perfect novel - not to be missed (Nikki M). Quiet controlled prose creates a sense of time and place inhabited by real people. There are no heroes or villains. Just regular folk who have to live with the consequences of their decisions in a world that is, after all, never fair (Shirin M).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1183 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Most impressive is the subtle yet profound maturation of Isabel and Tom as characters.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A polished, cleverly constructed and very precisely calculated first novel.

Author Blurb Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief
An extraordinary and heartrending book about good people, tragic decisions, and the beauty found in each of them.

Author Blurb Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane and Untold Story
This is a novel in which justice for one character means another's tragic loss, and we care desperately for both. Reading The Light Between Oceans is a total-immersion experience, extraordinarily moving.

Author Blurb Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
A beautiful novel about isolation and courage in the face of enormous loss... I couldn't look away from the page, and then I couldn't see it through tears. It's a stunning debut.

Reader Reviews
Ruth

the Light between Oceans
I have never read such an exciting and intricate novel since Cain and Abel! Each name was given with a great deal of thought, and I felt a personal involvement with every descriptive phrase. I truly appreciate a good book written by a woman without ...   Read More

Cloggie Downunder

brilliant novel
The Light Between Oceans is the first novel by Australian-born author, M.L.Stedman. A veteran of the First World War, 27-year-old Tom Sherbourne takes a position with the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service and finds himself on a remote island off the ...   Read More

SS

Don't pass it by
I listened to the audio version--what a wonderful, magical narrative.

Judy G

Heartful Love and Sorrow
My audio book experience of this story was tremendous. Oh, how my heart ached for the characters--all. Tom's amazing dedication to all 3 of the women in the story, Isabelle, Lucy and Hannah, was masterfully told. I was able to hold each character ...   Read More

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Lighthouse Keepers

In Margot L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper in Janus Rock, Australia, a place where "the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best..." But what exactly do lighthouse keepers do? What purpose do they serve?

Lake Erie Lighthouse near Cleveland, circa 1833 Generally speaking, a lighthouse keeper is someone who maintains a lighthouse facility. This job was of course more relevant years ago during the 19th century when oil-fueled lanterns and clockwork-like gears were fundamental components of lighthouses, before computers and electric lights could be used for the job. (In 1912, Nils Gustaf Dalén won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of "automatic valves designed to be ...

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