Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

When my college roommate and I get together we always talk books. What would you expect from two English majors? When she read this blog recently she called me out for being a downer. "Time to lighten up," she said. "Wait 'til you read The Light Between Oceans!" When I mention that it's on my desk and that I plan to lead the book discussion next winter at my library (as a volunteer), she is pleased. Well, Cath, this one failed to cheer me up!

An amazing amount of buzz and press goes into selling a debut novelist. Readers of my blog know that I am constantly blown away by the talent out there and wonder how many outstanding novels are languishing in a publisher's slush pile. M. L. Stedman, I've read, is publicity shy. She doesn't have a web page and she doesn't believe that her personal life has anything to do with her novel. But, let's face it, author geeks always want to understand the back story. It's in our nature. Maybe we're secretly saying, this could be me someday.

An Australian by birth, Londoner by choice, Ms. Stedman first published a short story that became this popular novel about an emotionally fraught World War I veteran and a naive young woman, seeking a different kind of life, who marry and move to Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Australia. Tom Sherbourne craves the isolation that comes with his position as lighthouse keeper. Isabel revels in her new role as wife and helpmate. For a while, they live in a Paradise of their own devising.

But just as temptation came to the allegorical Adam and Eve in the form of a snake, so it does to Tom and Isabel in the form of a dinghy washed up on their shores, carrying within a dead man and a newborn baby girl. Timing is everything. Isabel, having just given birth to a stillborn little boy,  grieves deeply for her loss. Just the sound of this mewling child excites her unused milk-engorged breasts and before Tom even buries the unknown father, Isabel is feeding and naming the supposed orphan.

"Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive." For the first time in years Tom makes a conscious decision not to record, in his otherwise meticulous records, the fateful dinghy wreck and its contents. This major omission will haunt him, guilt will eat away at his gut, and distrust will build a wall between Tom and Isabel for years to come until the relationship cracks under the weight of Tom's burden.

This novel resembles a Shakespearean tragedy. Fate enters, the gods laugh, human beings fail even as they act with the best of intentions. There are no villains and whether or not any of Ms. Stedman's characters can be seen as heroic, I'll leave up to the attendees at the book discussion. While the writing is gorgeously descriptive, the lighthouse at Janus Rock emerging as a character itself, the book left me dejected and unsatisfied. Perhaps it's because, no matter what you may think about my dark reading tastes, I am by nature an eternal optimist, always seeking the happy ending.

Any ideas dear readers? Upbeat suggestions are welcome.

In the meantime, I've been honored to receive two new, big, hefty, 400 page gems from Library Journal to read and review in the next few weeks so I'd better get cracking. One of them is Khaled Hosseini's long anticipated new book And the Mountains Echoed. What a perfect way to spend a frigid afternoon in southwest Florida.


TooManyBooks said...

Well, I wouldn't have recommended it as a "light" read. I read it and it will be a great discussion book. You know my light reads to recommend!

Sallyb said...

And we look like such light-hearted gals!

TooManyBooks said...

So true!

TooManyBooks said...

So true!