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

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. StedmanRating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 352

First published: 2012

I got this book: from Simon & Schuster via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: historical fiction

The Light Between Oceans: What it is about

Description from Netgalley: “In 1918, after four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes only four times a year and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel.

Three years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel is tending the grave of her newly lost infant when she hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up on shore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the dead man and the infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast.

Against Tom’s judgment, they claim the child as their own and name her Lucy, but a rift begins to grow between them. When Lucy is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world…and one of them is desperate to find her lost baby.”

The Light Between Oceans: What I thought

While it was a good read, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I read (and loved!) the first few chapters via the BEA Buzz Book before deciding I wanted to read the whole book.

My main issue is with the subdivision of the story. The story stays with a particular time and situation for a while, then moves forward in time. Months, or even years pass between sections. This didn’t work well for me. One problem was that I didn’t get attached to the characters much and therefore, based my judgement on their actions more on an intellectual consideration rather than an emotional point of view based on the main characters’ feelings.

The story deals especially with the question of who are the real parents of a child: the ones that have raised her or the biological parents? And what if the child has only known and loved one set of parents for the first few years of her life? Could you move her to her biological parents just like that? These are difficult and interesting questions that the book tackles well.

The book was beautifully written and therefore a pleasure to read. The feeling of isolation with Tom and Isabel on Janus Rock was very well described. I could not imagine anyone living so isolated but in the past there was no other choice if the light houses were to do their jobs properly.

A slightly disappointed read for me, but still interesting enough to recommend. People that loved The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan) are especially likely to enjoy this book, too.

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

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

  1. Yes, I was very slightly disappointed despite the quality of the writing, though I still really enjoyed it. I agree that I didn’t get attached to the characters and I like your theory that that made me judge them intellectually, rather than trying to understand emotionally. This book is now sat on my “not sure whether I want to keep this or not” pile.

    • Leeswammes says:

      It seems we agree on the book, Kate. We had a very similar reading experience. Mine was an ebook that will expire, so I don’t have to worry about keeping the book or not. 🙂

  2. Although there is a boat involved, I think I might actually enjoy this, Judith. Really loved your review, thanks.

  3. I agree with you! I enjoyed the first few chapters and was very excited to keep reading when they decide to keep the baby. Then it slowly let me down. I was expecting a little more intensity (my fault for expecting this, it impacted my experience).

    Still good though…

  4. bibliosue says:

    The premise reminds me a little bit of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

  5. I really like your honest and balanced review. It sounds like the writing is gorgeous, but it’s difficult to fully enjoy a book when you can’t connect with the characters. Also, while I do enjoy shifting timelines, I think the giant leaps forward in time would have bothered me. It would disrupt the continuity and make it harder for me to get to know the characters. I wonder if that’s part of the reason you had trouble connecting with the characters?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Momto3, yes, it was the fact that the book moved from one timeline to another that made it difficult to connect with the characters. But it’s definitely worth a read, for the writing, for the topic, for the experience!

  6. I was really looking forward to this one before its release, but then there were loads of reviews all at the same time and so I decided not to join the masses. Reviews seem very mixed and that intrigues me, but your balanced review has actually put me off a bit. I think I’d share your frustrations. I’ll probably give it a try before the end of the year because I love the premise so much, but I’ll not build up my expectations too much.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, I think you’d like this less than me, but I can’t be sure of course.

      Maybe it’s one that you should try, but that may end up in one of your DNF posts….

  7. Leslie says:

    I passed on an audio review copy of this because I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Now I think that was the right decision… considering how I felt about The Lifeboat, anyway. I find I’m getting better at choosing books I’ll like from the synopsis, not always (see my review on Overseas!) but getting there.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Leslie, yes, you probably made the right decision here. Actually, I find any book that I rate 4 or lower are books that may be fun to read, but I wouldn’t have missed much if I hadn’t read them. Although in this case… I did like the dilemma that the story presents.

  8. Beth says:

    I started this last night and decided to put it aside for a bit longer. I’m having a hard time dealing with the inconsistency of the voice of the narrator. I’m feeling like the slang comes and goes and is quite abrupt. Did you notice this at all? I will say that I thought I’d be sucked right in, but I just wasn’t feeling a connection at all.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Beth, I never noticed the slang. Or if I did, I didn’t notice it coming and going (not sure now). But I’m not native English so maybe I just didn’t notice for that reason. Although my English is pretty good.

      I felt the same about missing the connection.

  9. Maryom says:

    I was completely enthralled by this book. I didn’t have the problem of connecting with the characters though I certainly didn’t sympathise with them. I found it very moving and was glad that the ending wasn’t an ‘easy-way out’ happy one which would have stretched credibility too far. Surprised at the comparison with The Lifeboat as I found that a bit flat and predictable. We can’t all agree all the time though – the world would be far too dull 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Maryom, I did like *The Lifeboat* a lot but people have had very different opinions on that one.

      Yes, it was good that the ending wasn’t predictable. I liked the problem the book posed, about who a child belongs to.

  10. Chinoiseries says:

    The premise of the book sounds very interesting. I’m not sure whether the moving forward and backwards of time would work for me either, but other than that, I think I’d enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I loved this one as well, although my main problem with it was the very last section, with that huge temporal jump. I thought it weakened the impact of the rest of the book. But a wonderful debut, nonetheless.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I do agree a bit, Stephanie. I think it was nice to know what happened to the characters but it wasn’t *necessary* for the story. Maybe it was added on at a later time, as a sort of closure to the book.

  12. Pingback: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman « Pleasure of Reading

  13. Pingback: Book Review: San Miguel by T. C. Boyle « Leeswammes' Blog

  14. Boen says:

    I love this book. And i like the end:-) one of the better books in 2012. It starts a bit slow, so I agree with your rating:-)

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