Book review: The Light Between Oceans, by M L Stedman

The Light Between Oceans

Standing on fine white sand at the edge of the Indian ocean in Western Australia, I gaze at the seaport towards the south. Through misty ocean spray roughed up by the roaring surf, the silhouette of Fremantle reinforces the vast distance of this magnificent coastline.

M L Stedman’s debut novel is set on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia.

Although I live on the opposite end of this vast continent, Stedman’s vivid depiction of rugged seascapes fondly remind me of the beautiful part of the world my sister and her family lives. And through the plight of the protagonists in this story, the thought of her is never far from my mind.

The Light Between Oceans, a novel by M L  Stedman

The Light Between Oceans with the Indian Ocean in the background

Set in the 1920s after the First World War on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia, young lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel are the only inhabitants of this remote island.

After three tragic miscarriages on the island, the couple is confronted with a boat washed ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant. They are torn by ethical dilemma of whether to report the bizarre finding to authorities. Tom’s regimented training in the Australian army meant that rules are to be strictly observed. But Isabel’s painful past fuels her to believe that a young life having survived such extraordinary circumstances must surely be a gift from God.

The characters in the story are uncomplicated and perhaps intentionally so to reflect the simplicity of small communal towns during early Australia. The pace is a little slow when Isabel falls in love with Tom but quickly accelerates when the couple decides to keep the baby. This decision would later unravel dire consequences.

”There is something that appeals to the human psyche about lighthouses because of their isolation,” Stedman says. ”Their presence offers up a marvellous set of dichotomies the human imagination likes to explore – darkness and light, safety and danger, stasis and movement, isolation and communication.”

”The story throws up the role of isolation on morality – when you don’t see the impact of your actions. Perhaps it’s easier to fool yourself when you cannot see the face of those who are affected by what you do.”

Is there a happy ending? This question may depend on our very own personal interpretation of what is ethical and morally correct. Can a good deed right a wrong?

Perhaps love and hope are the greatest form of support we can give to loved ones in their time of need, “knowing that the light will reappear.”

Back cover - The Light Between Oceans

Back cover – The Light Between Oceans

This book has been a bestseller around the world, having been translated into almost forty languages. Hollywood movie rights were recently snapped up by Dreamworks, with David Heyman (Harry Potter) set to be the producer.

  • Winner of three ABIA awards for Best Newcomer, Best Literary Novel and Book of the Year
  • Winner of two Indie Awards for Best Debut and Book of the Year
  • Winner of the Nielsen BookData Bookseller’s Choice Award for 2013

Recently voted Historical Novel of 2012 by GoodReads’ reading community – See more at:

This book is available through Booktopia (A$16.95) and Book Depository (A$16.51).

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One Response to Book review: The Light Between Oceans, by M L Stedman

  1. Chopinand, what a treat to discover a book review on your blog! I’ve always admired your restaurant reviews for their unabashed, forthright honesty and I’m equally impressed by your candid review of this novel. Sounds intriguing! I live a rather “isolated” life and I liked the quote you featured re: isolation vs. morality and the impact of our actions on others. Food for thought… thank you!

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