In My Good Books: ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans, published in 2012, is a timeless tragic romance. This novel combines quaint domestic harmony with crime and grief as Stedman tells the story of a husband and wife’s search for happiness. It narrates the tale of a mother’s desperation for a child of her own and the frangible line between right and wrong.

Admittedly, I was not captivated by the slow beginning of The Light Between Oceans, however the pivotal moment when the protagonist meets his wife acts as a catalyst for the upcoming scandal. The novel begins by following the career of war veteran, Tom Sherbourne, and his arrival in the small Australian village of Partageuse. Partageuse is an intimate and quaint village in which all lives are intricately interwoven in the close-knit society. Following his experience during the war, Tom has chosen the isolated career of a lighthouse keeper, a job that seems fitting for this closed and complex character. Tom soon finds himself embarking on an ambitious and daunting posting at Janus, a desolate island.

The reader is convinced of the bleak and lonely future of Sherbourne, until his life is irreversibly altered by meeting Isabel. Isabel is a young woman who lives in Partageuse, and despite her age, she is unafraid and confident as she subtly pursues Tom. Isabel manages to resurrect Tom’s emotions as she captures his heart through her naivety and determination. The pair are soon married and embark on a life together on Janus. The novel then depicts the epitome of romance as the passionate couple exist in their impenetrable paradise. However, this harmony is soon tainted as, to their despair, they continually fail to create a family together. This timeless narrative captures the reader’s heart as Isabel’s desperation and grief drains her of all her energy, happiness and rationality. Thus, when a baby arrives on the island in a washed-up boat, Isabel sees the child as a miracle. The events that follow highlight the conflict between Tom’s conscience and Isabel’s maternal longing that overrides all reason.

One of the most striking elements of The Light Between Oceans is that, despite their compatibility, Tom and Isabel are often opposite in temperament. Isabel is presented as an open and hopeful character, whilst her husband is closed and internally distressed. Thus, while Isabel is impulsive and optimistic, Tom is haunted by his conscience and his guilt. As Tom continually represses his memories of both his childhood and the war, the reader begins to recognise his psychological trauma that not even his own wife can imagine or understand. Hence, while Isabel desperately attempts to construct the future, Tom is perpetually confined to his harrowing past.

It is unquestionable that Tom and Isabel are legally accountable for their actions. However, each reader sympathises with the couple, and the outcome of the novel suggests the complexity of right and wrong. The harrowing miscarriages of Isabel depict a rarely explored topic within literature. This unique plot line presents the heart-breaking journey of this couple, that is simultaneously thought-provoking and heart-breaking for readers. While the reader sympathises with the baby’s biological parents, the joy that the child brings to Tom and Isabel is undeniable and irreproachable.

The Light Between Oceans explores the complexity of human emotion, through the intensity of both Isabel’s maternal yearning and Tom’s guilt. The couple present both euphoric love and tragic despair as the reader follows the complex journey of their marriage. This unique and memorable novel leaves each reader questioning who are the heroes and villains of this story, thus making The Light Between Oceans one of my top reads of 2018.

Harriet Hansford 

 

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