Great read: The Light Between Oceans

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Great read: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, Random House, $32.95.

There was an international bidding war for this debut novel by Australian author Margot Stedman and while the plotline is solid, it is the mesmerising quality of the writing that has caused the much deserved commotion.

Stedman's descriptions are superb: vivid and accessible without being overblown.

Set for the most part in the 1920s, this is the story of quiet, reliable but enigmatic Tom Sherbourne who, desperate to escape the painful memories of his feted actions in World War I, happily signs up for banishment to the uninhabited island of Janus Rock, off the coast of Western Australia, to work as a lighthouse keeper and find much-needed peace.

Here, like Tom, we fall in love with the isolation, the power of nature and the rhythms of a simple and ordered life.

"It seemed his lungs could never be large enough to breathe in this much air, his eyes could never see this much space, nor could he hear the full extent of the rolling, roaring ocean. For the briefest moment, he had no edges."

The sense of freedom is intense and invigorating, and when Tom brings his new wife, Isobel, to share his oblivion, the pair set about trying to expand their family.

Despite her attachment to Tom, Izzy — who, to be honest, is a little wet — is crippled with loneliness and aches to have a child, but she is plagued with miscarriages.

So when a baby and a dead body are washed ashore in a dingy, it seems as if God is handing them a lifeline which Izzy, engulfed with a needy mother's love, grabs with both hands.

What follows is, at times, predictable and many of the characters are stuck in two dimensions, but the sheer passion and poetry of Stedman's prose carries us on a wave of emotion and heartbreak, as we teeter on a tightrope between right and wrong.

Destined for book club discussions around the globe.

About the author

Margot Stedman was born and raised in Perth, and although she now lives in London, Perth is "still definitely home".

Margot decided she wanted to write in 1997, but didn't start until 2008.

"I never plan what I write. I usually start with a picture in my imagination, or a sentence, or the sound of a voice. The Light Between Oceans started when I closed my eyes to imagine a scene and a lighthouse turned up.

"I could see a woman and, later, a man, who I worked out was the lightkeeper, and I gradually realised it was his story."

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