Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Steadman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Published: 3rd December 2012
Synopsis: This mesmerizing Australian novel has been a bestselling book around the world, and Hollywood movie rights were recently snapped up by DreamWorks, with David Heyman (Harry Potter) set to produce. It is the winner of three prestigious ABIA awards, including their ‘Book of the Year’, and also won the Indie Awards’ ‘Book of the Year’. They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. Then one April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads. Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …
Winner of three ABIA awards for Best Newcomer, Best Literary Novel and Book of the Year – 2013 ABIA Book of the Year, 2013 ABIA Literary Fiction of the Year
Winner of two Indie Awards for Best Debut and Book of the Year – 2013 Book of the Year
Winner of the Nielsen BookData Bookseller’s Choice Award for 2013
Recently voted Historical Novel of 2012 by GoodReads’ reading community
The Light Between Oceans opens in 1926, when Isabel and Tom Sherbourne discover a boat washed up on the shore of their home, Janus, with a dead body and a baby inside. Torn between doing the right thing according to the laws of Australia, Western Australia and the code of being a lighthouse keeper he is bound by, and what feels like the right thing as humans, yet under the law is wrong, Tom and his wife Isabel make the decision to keep the baby and raise her as their own, and not notify anyone of her presence. Lucy grows up in this isolated place, studying the land and the stars, and the sea, learning the boundaries of this place, and slowly becoming a little person with curiosity, but also immense trust in the two people she thinks of as her parents. A chance trip to the mainland for her baptism will set in motion a series of events that lead to the discovery of what really happened to the man in the boat, and the fracturing of a life that seemed so perfect – and what happens when the truth comes out, and for both sides, right and wrong look like the same thing – the best place for a little girl who had been washed ashore in a strange place, and whose family had thought her gone.
When Tom and Isabel are faced with having to give Lucy back to her real mother, everyone is affected by the lies and deception, and the fallout that leads to tragedy and separation. Their lives have been impacted by several miscarriages, the arrival of the boat, and Tom’s service in World War One – the scars of the war are ever present throughout the book, and threads of the story hint at these deep physical and emotional scars that have impacted a generation sent away to a war to end all wars. This backdrop gives insight into how the characters make decisions and why, and who they end up becoming. Tom and Isabel are good people, who thought they were doing the right thing, in a place where communication with other people might not happen for months at a time. When they are caught up in the legalities and returning Lucy to her mother in Partageuse, their lives take an unexpected turn, and the happy ending for Lucy that they’d all hoped for looks like it might not come. The life that Isabel had imagined for Lucy is lost as the truth comes out, and the little girl is returned to the family who thought her lost forever.
I’ve described this as literary fiction mixed with historical fiction – set in a time and place between a war, and the Great Depression, The Light Between Oceans uses history as its backdrop but is heavily driven by the characters of Tom, Isabel, Lucy, and the character of the lighthouse, and Janus. Slowly, the mainland characters come in but they’re more peripheral in Tom and Isabel’s journey. The conflict of morals and the right thing to do – as a human and legally – drive the conflict of the plot and the characters. As a reader, I was always thinking about why a character did what they did, or reacted the way they did – and M.L. Steadman has created flawed, imperfect characters who are at war within themselves and whose react to what is happening in a very human way. It is a story of human hope, trust and emotions, and what we can be driven to do when caught in a tricky situation where no answer feels like the right one.