Gabe's Reviews > The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
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it was amazing

The Light Between Oceans is an incredibly moving novel about what happens when good people make bad decisions. The story takes place in the town of Point Partageuse, Australia during the 1920s. The story begins when a light house keeper and his wife find a life boat containing a live baby (and dead man) on the shore of their isolated island. Through a mixture of misplaced intentions and unsupported superstition they decide to raise the child as their own -- deciding not to inform the authorities of the child's existence.

Although the book was a quick read, I never once felt that it was forced or lacking in anyway. The plot is compact -- never wavering from its central theme. I enjoy this kind of focused writing. Irrelevant or distracting side plots would have pulled me away from Tom and Isabel's narrative and weakened my investment in their turmoil.

The story is highly emotional. Stedman crafts a perfectly gray scenario that forces its readers to question their own moral standing. This truly is reader manipulation at its most powerful. Allowing the reader to sympathize with morally ambiguous characters is a difficult task, however, Stedman presents her narrative in such a way that the reader can't help feeling the same inner conflict as Tom and Isabel.

Considering this is Stedman's first published novel, I am incredibly excited to see what she produces next. This was a masterpiece in storytelling.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 4, 2012 – Finished Reading
September 5, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-39 of 39 (39 new)

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Emily Chiominto Very accurate review! Loved the book!


message 2: by Liz (new)

Liz Your assessment is perfect. The only thing I would say is that I didn't get Isabel's inner struggle with the concepts of right and wrong as much as I did Tom's. She was overtaken by her maternal instinct. She seemed to feel this baby was hers. Even after Tom gave them up she was consumed with her loss. In the very end she developed her conscience about what she had done. And she fell into the abyss.


Carrie I agree!!


Dale Harcombe I agree


Christine Holyoake Fantastic comments, thank you very much


Laura I have two chapters to read and I don't want it to end. The characters so well written, her word choice is so succinct. Riveting story.


Dale Harcombe Lots of us loved this one.


Cynthia Accurate review :) great book!


Debby Hallett I'm curious about your view that these are good people. What is it you see in Izzy that makes you think she's a good person? I thought she was breathtakingly self-absorbed and without compassion for others. In fact, I've had a reaction to the book almost opposite to you in every way, so I'm curious. (I'm 65% through it and will go finish it now.)


Pamela Mclaren I'm about a third of the way through the book and agree totally with your review. It is a very good book.


Debby Hallett I finished it, and my opinion didn't change. Didn't like Isabel. Thought Tom was foolish. Oh well. Different horses. :-)


message 12: by Leah (new) - added it

Leah Great review, Gabe - thanks


Adele I read this book a few months ago and was asked to lead a book discussion about it in a couple of days. So I reread it and actually liked it even better the second time around. I too think that Isabel was totally self-absorbed. I think that Tom was a high-principled man who was caught in a struggle between his head and his heart. He made a "heart" decision which ate at him until he was able to right it. The author is really good at creating her characters. I felt as though I really knew them. I think this would make a great movie. Bring tissues.


Pamela Mclaren I guess I see it from a woman who was lucky enough to have gotten pregnant and given birth successfully. I can easily see a young woman, desperate to have a baby (after three miscarriages, the latest one only a couple of weeks prior) seeing a baby in a dinghy and thinking its a gift from God. I wouldn't call that self-absorbed and certainly after raising a baby a number of years, can see the desperation she would have about giving the baby back to the natural mother. It happens quite often in the news and while we can look at that dispassionately, I understand how someone who has raised the child can want to desperately hold on to that child. And, I still feel conflicted if it is necessarily the best thing to give a child back to her natural parent after a matter of four years — Stedman gave what I would think is a very accurate representation of how that child would feel. I can see how both Isabel and Tom felt and why they did what they did. Its a very tough place to be and I felt for not only Tom and Isabel but the child and the mother. What a horrible situation to be in. And to this day, we have not figured out how to deal with this very awkward situation.


message 15: by Dale (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dale Harcombe Pamela wrote: "I guess I see it from a woman who was lucky enough to have gotten pregnant and given birth successfully. I can easily see a young woman, desperate to have a baby (after three miscarriages, the late..."

Great comments Pamela that show an understanding of what it felt like for all concerned and what the author was trying to achieve. I was one of those who loved this book and gave it five stars for all the reasons you just mentioned.


message 16: by Adele (last edited Jan 14, 2014 08:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adele There are several reasons why I believe Isabel is self-absorbed from the time she convinced Tom to marry her to her blaming him for all the repercussions of their bad decisions. Certainly, I empathize with her but I don't think she ever understood the other persons' points of view.


message 17: by Bunny (new)

Bunny Compelling characters and the haunting question, "what would you do?" Made this a riveting story.


Vicky Mutuc Agree with Gabe that the story came together quickly without to much repetition, mush in between.


Debby-and Sizemore I just want to comment on Adele's post. Just because she found Isabel to be self- absorbed does not mean she did not relate to her position and emotions. Being self-absorbed was a critical part of her character development, and a key component to her decisions and reactions. Add to that the isolation, it is easier to understand how she felt their world was their own, and easy to forget that there were even factors to consider beyond their own happiness.


Adele Debby, Oh, I do think she related to her position and emotions. I also think she did not relate to anyone else's position or emotions.


message 21: by Cath (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cath Beautiful review, I agree entirely and I too am excited by her next book - she has a breathtaking talent.


Claire McConnell Fantastic and well deserved review!


Anita Great review! I feel as I could have written this review; however, not near as eloquently. I am amazed how polar opposite your review is to Barbara Williams. I understand Izzy's desperation to have a child from a very personal prospective. I did not feel Izzy was near as self absorbed as other readers did. I came to know a woman who experienced grief over and over in a very isolated environment both due to her physical location and more so due to her husband's withdrawn and closed nature. She must have felt very alone and desperate. The author developed the ethical theme very well. I was a little disappointed with the ending, but overall a very thought provoking emotional book.


Sarah I totally agree with your review! I thought the characters were developed well and I'm glad she stuck to one story rather than branching off into side plots. This book broke my heart and I think one of the main reasons I felt so emotionally attached is because it was always about Tom and Isobel. I felt their loss and happiness and moral dilemmas. The only character I didn't entirely "get" was Hannah's father. I thought he was going to be more of a threat when Tom was in jail, but nothing really came of him. But, it's a minor point.

As to Isobel's self-absorbency, I half way agree. On one hand, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. I felt like she never really tried to understand Tom, especially when it came to doing the right thing and his sense of duty. I also think she had this beautiful life for them planned I her head, and when reality wasn't living up to it, she sucked back inside of herself. On the other hand, I think that is precisely was she was "self-absorbed." She suffered so much loss, and even said she felt like she failed Tom for not giving him children. Having never been pregnant myself, I can only imagine the hurt she felt and totally get wanting to suck back inside of yourself.

This character complexity is why I loved this book. I was sitting on my couch wondering "if I was in this situation, what would I do?" Because I could see both sides.

Overall, this is a beautifully written, heart-breaking book, and I recommend it to anyone. Months after reading it, I still find myself thinking about it.


Angela I just stopped crying after finishing the last few pages. I gave it 5 stars. It was so well written! All the characters had flaws. I also liked most of them, not always Hannah, or the mean cop, but they all had some characteristic I related to. Tom was tortured. Izzy found her baby and false happiness- she was looking over her shoulder too!


Cynthia Alice You assume, in your review that good people made bad decisions. Perhaps good people made good decisions that simply had very challenging consequences for many. Everyone learned and gained so much in the process of living their decisions through.


Cynthia Alice You assume, in your review that good people made bad decisions. Perhaps good people made good decisions that simply had very challenging consequences for many. Everyone learned and gained so much in the process of living their decisions through.


Cynthia Alice You assume, in your review that good people made bad decisions. Perhaps good people made good decisions that simply had very challenging consequences for many. Everyone learned and gained so much in the process of living their decisions through.


Diana King I agree!


Lost Mermaid Loved the book (always wanted to live in a lighthouse anyway) and can't wait to see the film this weekend


Victoria I finished and cried at the end. I don't think Isabel was self absorbed, she felt the need to try to make everyone's life full again with this baby. There are some holes in the book that in real life most people would shrug off but the underlying meaning of this book is about love and forgiveness. Isabel blamed herself still at the end of her life. I want to know if Lucy-Grace will have more of a relationship with tom now. But to have a book make me want to hug my child every time I put it down and move me like this is amazing.


message 32: by Lois (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lois A very complex book, with excellent character development It deals with plenty of symbolism and the hard choices that are never totally right or wrong. It is about love and sacrifice, hope and forgiveness. I loved that it was not a simple, happily-ever-after story. A real heartbreaker with plenty of lessons. It also has a study guide for book groups including discussion questions. I highly recommend!


message 33: by Maha (new) - rated it 5 stars

Maha I too thought that Isabel was self absorbed and didn't like her character. I loved the book very much though and looking forward to the movie. The only thing that bothers me is that we never get to know how Frank died. It seems that the writer forgot to explain how he ended up dead in that boat while the baby survived.


Amelia @Maha Frank had heart trouble & his arm was hurting. So I assumed that's what it was. Of course back then very little was known about forensics so even with a fresh body they may have never known.


Shelly Thanks for the review Gabe. It was a hard read for me. Not in terms of the writing but the content. As someone who understands Isabel's position it's hard not to consider what you would do in the same circumstance and question your own ability to make the correct moral judgement. Stedman has crafted her narrative expertly so expertly that you begin to question what is wrong or right and that can be very confronting.


Patti Pamela wrote: "I guess I see it from a woman who was lucky enough to have gotten pregnant and given birth successfully. I can easily see a young woman, desperate to have a baby (after three miscarriages, the late..."

Yes! I agree. I have 2 adopted and 2 not adopted children (all of whom are parents themselves now...I understand Isabel's position AND Tom's. The desperation is real, as is the joy ... and the anguish.


message 37: by Joan (new)

Joan Gibson I totally agree with everything you have said in this excellent review, Gaby. Thanks. xxx


Ankit Agrawal What an excellent review!!!!!! Top stuff Gaby


Rachel Daubner Wow I loved this book!!


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