Sunday, June 22, 2014

#33 [2014/CBR6] "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans (2012) by M.L. Stedman has been on my reading list for awhile--long enough for me to forget when and why I put it on there. I had a vague notion that it had something to do with adopting a child? but that was about it. In fact, I think I confused it in my head with some other book that I wanted to read and now can't remember.

Anyway, I was right. This book did have something to do with children. Tom Sherbourne is back in Australia after WWI, haunted by all he saw, did, and the mere fact of his survival. He meets and marries Isabel, a young local and goes to work at an isolated lighthouse. This position requires him and Isabel to be completely isolated for months at a time, with shore leave only once every couple of years.

Isabel doesn't mind the isolation of the lighthouse but she longs more than anything for a family. After two miscarriages and a stillbirth, she is beyond miserable. And that's when an opportunity arises. I don't want to go any farther into the plot because I think the less you know the better.

The best part of this book was how much I believed the motivations of each character. I could understand and sympathize with everyone, even as they made choices I dreaded. No one was crazy or evil; they were just people trying to live through their tragic lives in the best way possible. In a book with no clear "bad guy" the tragedy comes from the circumstances that are thrust upon them--although these circumstances are sometimes a bit too coincidental. Even so, it makes for some fascinating quandaries when you can go back and forth and back and forth in your mind as you try to figure out the best outcome at different points in the book.

The worst part about reading this book, however, was reading this book. Every character deals with mindnumbing tragedy: a mother's two sons are killed days apart in WWI, Isabel's three dead children, Tom's dead mother and estranged father, Hannah's lost family. Add on top of that, the tragic circumstances of a child torn from her mother, and this is an extremely heavy book. The addition of the isolated setting of a small island surrounded by a stormy sea and the entire reading experience is dark and unsettling. Much of my reading was filled with dread and at one point I had to consciously disassociate from what was going on because it was bothering me so much. So, it was a powerful and effective story, but one that was not what I could call fun to read.

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