Let the waterworks begin! {The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman}

Crocodile tears? I couldn't get suckered into this one. Sorry.

Synopsis of The Light Between Oceans by M. L. StedmanAfter four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore 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 man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

My two cents

I've had this on my radar since it got such rave reviews from the blogging community when in 2012 it won a Goodreads People's Choice Award (Historical Fiction). Then I found out that a readalong was happening so I was able to snag a copy of the book (courtesy of the publisher). Besides, the movie is out now (see trailer here) so I obviously must read book before watching movie.

Love ...

I'd pinpoint this as the book's saving grace: the setting in a lesser-known area in Australia and about life in a difficult environment - how many books depict life in a lighthouse? As I was reading this, I was under the impression that the setting was real; Stedman admits that Janus Rock is fictitious (see interview here):

[...] But the region where the Great Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet is real, and the climate, weather and the landscape are more or less as I’ve described them. I wrote some of the book there: It’s a very beautiful, if sometimes fierce, part of the world. 
Promising: the themes of parenthood and of a moral dilemma of two parents, similar to the Biblical "split the baby" paradox. This was tackled quite in depth and brought forth the stronger characters - Hannah and Tom (I have reservations about him though, more later).

If you've read this and loved it, so be it. I'm not in the "love camp" so please don't read any further if you did (I'm serious). Because here's what I hated about this book.

Hate ...

I picked this up with great expectations (like all books, right?). But this isn't at all what I was expecting; it was a bit of a letdown, to be honest.  I actually sped-read about half of this because I wanted to get through it quickly and painlessly. This review has languished because I wanted to give it a chance!

I thought I'd be moved by the tragedy of the story and wowed by the literary quality of the writing. The below may sound cryptic but it is spoiler-free. So here's what I thought:
  • It's generally predictable. Actually, scratch that: it's predictable. 
  • The drama felt forced and even verged on melodramatic. So much emoting. If you cry at the drop of a hat, then you may love it. It'll tug at all your heartstrings. It didn't tug on mine because I was uneasy and I actually felt I was being emotionally manipulated ... and why did this all take so long? The drama was so drawn out that halfway is all that I could manage sanely.
  • The characters, oh my. Don't get me started. Isabel, who I so wanted to like because of her heartbreak and her pain, was just a grating character to me. Her desperation verged on the melodramatic. Meanwhile, Tom, who I warmed up to immediately, annoyed me when he acted totally out of character during a pivotal moment. Talk about a cop-out. 
  • There are niggly things, coincidences, and turns of events that seemed too easily to fall together that I was in a constant state of disbelief.
  • The writing had its lovely moments, I concede, but when combined with the above, the metaphors and flowery writing merely grated on me.

All in all, this felt like a big yawn for me.

P.S. The film will be a no go for me. I suspend judgment on the movie but I fear that it'll be in the mold of Nicholas Sparks, whose books and movies annoy me no end (*shudder).


Loved the setting, the promise of the themes of parenthood ... but I did not get suckered into the melodramatics of this predictable tale. I'd say pass.

If you're interested in the readalong, check out this link: Goodreads Readalong.

Love or hate camp? Tell me!

*I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for review consideration.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall