Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Staff Picks

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne was no stranger to hardship, loneliness, and loss.  His mother left home when he was only eight years old, leaving him in the hands of a father who was quick to punish infractions.  She had been dead for just three weeks when he finally tracked her down in his early twenties. He enlisted during World War I, suffering not only in the killing of the enemy but also in the loss of comrades and consequential moral decency...hoping that his shift on burial duty included those who had suffered some major loss of body or limb...less grave to dig and less weight to heft to fill that grave.  Post-army duty found him filling in as a temporary replacement for the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island (a half day's journey by boat) off the coast of  Partageuse ("between two oceans")  in Australia. Here, in this place of solitude with his duty only to his job, he hoped to bring some order back into his life.  Having little interaction with the outside world and its politics, problems, and choices, Tom has only to light the light on schedule, keep meticulous notes of any daily occurrences, and keep the lighthouse and its lenses in proper working order.  Here he can surely save lives with his lighting duty, perhaps a way to atone for the many lives lost during the war.  There is a precise rulebook to follow and the natural world to explore.  This instills in him a degree of peace, something he had not had in a long while, until he meets Isabel Graysmark.

Isabel is the only surviving child of the headmaster in Partageuse.  Meeting her for the second time after a random first encounter, Tom is taken with her lighthearted approach to life and, eventually, her surprising desire to have a future with him, despite his unwillingness to openly share every detail of his past.  As a married couple, they thrive.  Tom's life is rounded out with the love he shares with Isabel while she is taken with both the closeness of the relationship and the novelty of island life.  Life becomes difficult, however, when Isabel is unable to fulfill her need for motherhood after suffering several miscarriages and a still birth; Tom once again faces the  possibility of losing the one who is central to his life when she despairs of being able to live without a child.

With much of the fill-in story told in flashback, author M.L. Stedman introduces the solution and the complication on the first few pages.  One becomes attached to the characters, questions the choices they make, and worries about the ensuing difficulties.  Loyalties are both tested and torn as the book progresses. Truths are twisted or ignored to protect some characters while leaving others to bear the burden of the lies.  Not until the end of the last chapter can the reader really decide whether the author has written a just ending for the protagonist...and even that is probably a matter of opinion.

I very much recommend this book.

Helen Lug
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