The Light Between Oceans
M.L. Stedman
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Buy *The Light Between Oceans* by M.L. Stedman online

The Light Between Oceans
M.L. Stedman
352 pages
July 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In her uniquely Australian story, Stedman uses vibrant, lyrical language and exquisitely measured plotting to spin a heartbreaking tale that seduces the reader. Fearless and inventive, The Light Between Oceans explores the choices mothers are forced into under the most desperate of circumstances and how one manís heroism, courage, and guilt leads him to make a skewed, life-altering decision. Stedman tells the story of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, unfolding their tale in a delicate mix of heavily crafted drama and emphasizing the rivalries and obstacles that will come to characterize much of their marriage.

Haunted by the Great War and the voices of the blokes who stood beside him and saved his life, Tom travels from Sydney to Point Partageuse on the Western Australian coast, hoping to take up the relief posting of lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a desolate square mile of green linked only by the supply boat that comes four times a year. A bleak place of wind, waves, and light where the treacherous Indian and Southern Oceans meet, Tomís days are spent attending to the sensitive technical instruments that keep the lantern turning and maintaining a logbook in the same steady pen that tells the tale of the keeperís life.

The years pass peacefully, until Tom is confronted by storms both real and metaphorical. Isabelís terrible, bloody miscarriages completely shatter her troubled soul. When Tom finds a dead man in a beached dingy and his baby alive, true and safe, his initial inclination is to notify the authorities. This is hardly an omnipotent God making a mistake, but Isabel--a woman of raw and natural maternal tendencies--is certain the baby's serendipitous arrival canít be just a coincidence.

Using a colloquial Australian voice to project the thoughts and actions of Tom and Isabel, Stedman does a gorgeous job of describing the mechanism inherent in those who ache for children, a point of view made all too real in the psychological battle that is waged between Tom, Isabel and Hannah--the third wheel in the story. Throughout, Tom remains Isabelís moral compass as the wind howls around the kaleidoscopic lantern room of the Janus lighthouse and pushes at the thick panes of glass.

Contrasting the power of the Janus light--once a fixed a reliable point in the world--with the cruel myopia of Partageuse, a town intent to draw a veil over certain events, Stedman conveys a place where 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 manís name. In a landscape where "history is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent," the changing levels of Tom and Isabelís intimacy act as a delicate barometer, reflecting which side of Tomís inner conflict is gaining the upper hand.

Baby Lucy adores her life on the isolated stretches of Janus Rock, and she loves her new parents, Tom and Isabel. But Tom canít drive away this sense of uneasiness, the little girl's presence reawakening a foreboding that steadily ferments his feelings of sliding back into the darkness that Tom thought he had once escaped. All of a sudden, Tom is forced to take the most fateful decision of his life, setting a direction for an unexpected and catastrophic future and propelling the journey forward for both him and Isabel.

Weaving palpable emotion into her historical story, Stedman gives us food for thought as she presents the challenges and missed opportunities for her characters. All the while, Janus's bright light steadily illuminates, a powerful symbol for Isabel's failings, Hannah's yearnings and Tom's sense of being trapped in a separate and isolated past.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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