Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman



By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

light between oceans ***

Category: Fiction

Author: M.L. Stedman

Format: Trade Paperback, 346 pages

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3808-6

Pub Date: March 5, 2013


Summary from Publisher:

This exquisitely written debut novel sweeps you into the lives of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne. After WWI, Tom returns to Australia very much alone and deeply marked by what he has seen and done. It comes as a shock when the beautiful Isabel finds him attractive. A proper courtship ensues and before long it is Isabel herself who boldly declares her love for Tom. She willingly leaves her comfortable life to join him on the remote island of Janus Rock in Western Australia where he takes up the post of lighthouse keeper.

Her only wish — and his too — is to have lots of children with whom to share their love. But life does not unfold as it should. Isabel experiences a series of miscarriages and most cruelly — a full-term stillborn. She is devastated and inconsolable.

And then, a small miracle: a half-destroyed boat is washed ashore carrying a dead man and a softly crying infant. Tom, ever the serious and honorable professional, wants to immediately report the shipwreck but Isabel convinces him that this was meant to be — that likely the baby’s mother has drowned and with the father dead, the baby is truly an orphan.

Reluctantly Tom acquiesces and they declare to their friends and family back home that finally they have borne a child. Baby Lucy lights up their world and they shower her with the love they so longed to give.

And then… the lie of Lucy’s birth begins to unravel and Isabel and Tom are forced to deal with moral choices that no parent should ever have to make.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:


The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman is an emotionally rich and fully engaged story about a couple’s post and isolation on the island Janus Rock in keeping and maintaining the much aged and beloved lighthouse of the small town of Partagueuse.

But the idyllic life of lightkeeping and the idealism between Tom Sherbourne, and his new wife, Isabel Graysmark, in their marriage, quickly disintegrates into devastation and madness with the number of consecutive miscarriages that befall them.

With each miscarriage, Isabel Graysmark, now Mrs. Sherbourne, mourns the deaths of her infants, internalizes her incessant biological failure, and becomes absolutely focused and obsessed with the compulsion of motherhood, which has adamantly eluded her.

Then with the unexpected arrival of a boat that washes up on shore with a dead man and a wailing baby, the Sherbournes stretch the line between morality and immorality with a life-altering decision that not only determines the fate of their family, but greatly deceives and disrupts the whole of the Patagueuse community.

Though the setting is in the 1920’s, the writing is not written with a heavy pen as usually expected in stories of that time, but rather an ease that showcases the depth of a character-driven novel and a story, which will not fail to grip its readers to it’s every word, if not every page.

The dialogue brings the book alive with its accurate-sounding accents and idioms especially from the characters, Ralph Addicott and Bluey, the men who steer the store boat, the Windward Spirit, out to the ocean periodically to provide the Sherbourne family with food, supplies, and current news from town.

But, the heart of the novel is not only its characters: Tom Sherbourne, Isabel Graysmark, Bill and Violet Graysmark, Septimus Potts, Hannah and Frank Roennfeldt, and Lucy-Grace, Ralph and Hilda Addicott, and Bluey—it’s the moral injustice in the book that will drive readers to vehemence and outrage.

I was so personally affected by the reading of the book, so greatly disenchanted by Tom Sherbourne’s yielding submission to his wife, and Isabel’s unreasonable demands and delusions that I simply seethed with hatred for her character and had at many times dropped and/or threw the book down in contempt, needing to turn away from its unfair implications.

I was so moved to anger by this novel, I had at times almost decided not to finish it—but, my curiosity, my yearning for justice, truth, and reconciliation was so severe due to the devastation of the novel, that I was, in the end, glad I had decided to change my mind.

I also found the lyrical prose about the interrelationship between the stars, the ocean, the lighthouse, and the biology, and isolation of Janus Rock, sentimental and beautiful.

Though imperfect, the conclusion of the novel moved me to tears. Though the reading of the book was emotionally gruelling while I struggled to reconcile with the maddening choices made by the desperation of a woman obsessed with her own loss, the novel does well in exploring the internalized conscience, the magnitude of the rippling effect of one’s choices, and a re-examining of the definition of true motherhood and family.

Regardless of your response to this novel, a strong one will be required of you. Either from the vehemence towards one character, disappointment in another, or love and compassion towards its victims. The Light Between Oceans will not only signal the danger of poor choices, the desperation that can be associated with loss and even love, it will prove to be a shining light that bridges the gap between right and wrong, and those drowning in its current.



 Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 4 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada on behalf of Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author:

ML Stedman

M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London. The Light Between Oceans is her first novel.

– From Goodreads Author Page


Sometimes desperation can have terrifying consequences. How far should one go in fulfilling one’s own desires before it becomes an unhealthy form of obsession or a question of immorality?

Have you ever felt this kind of desperation before?

If you’ve read the book, who do you think Lucy-Grace should have stayed with? Belonged to?

What do you think is the true definition of motherhood and/or parenting? Is it biological? Relational? One or the other? Both?

The lifestyle of a lightkeeper is a unique one. Could you see yourself as a lightkeeper? Why or why not? What about its lifestyle would you find most interesting/enjoyable? Most difficult?


zara cat stamp

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