Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
My rating: 3.5 / 5
Audiobook note: I initially tried listening to The Light Between Oceans on audiobook, but I had to constantly adjust the volume because the narrator fluctuated between a whisper and yell. Annoying.
Is it worth reading? If want a beach read or a quick love story with a little bit of edge, this is your jam. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s got more meat and moral backbone than your average romance.
>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<
It’s been weeks, and I’m still not sure how I feel.
Until I got to Part III, I had already decided that I was going to give this book only 3 stars.
what I DIDN’T like:
I really had to force myself through the first few chapters. But I had to know how it ended.
Maybe it was just the author’s style, but I didn’t think the short and staccato sentences really worked. It felt unnecessarily choppy. I had also finished Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, where every word and sentence was almost lyrical in its flow. Reading TLBO felt like driving along a bumpy road.
Another style note: each chapter is divided into multiple “vignettes” that gave you a small peek into the action. I rarely say it, but this book just wasn’t long enough. The snapshots just weren’t enough to immerse you into the world or character’s heads.
The book description essentially gave away the plot of Parts I and II. For almost half of the book, I was waiting to get to the parts of the story that I didn’t already know.
I didn’t like how most of the book was Tom’s perspective. I really, really wanted to understand Isabel. I wanted to get inside her skin and understand what it felt like to be on the edge of grief and sanity … I wanted to connect somehow, but I couldn’t.
It’s shame that this book missed such an incredible opportunity to explore the depths of postpartum depression and mental illness.
For me, The Light Between Oceans‘ biggest flaw was a lack of character development. At the end of the day, as much as I long for this to be a character-driven novel, it’s a plot-driven novel. The plot is so good. But the characters suffered as a result.
I never fully understood Tom or Isabel’s motivations or hearts. And I really wanted to. I wanted to experience every emotion and heartbreak. I wanted to not hate Isabel and be frustrated with Tom. I wanted to feel for them. At the end, I sort of did. But I wanted more.
In the last few chapters, TLBO suddenly redeemed itself from 3-star status.
what I DID like:
First and foremost, if you are a lover of the rules (like me), this book instantly becomes dually stressful and fascinating. The main characters (good people, we’ve learned) make a terrible, awful, (and in my opinion) wrong choice. A choice that is so fraught with illogic and heartbreak and desperation that you have to know how it ends.
And this is where the book is redeemed. You can point your finger at sloppy writing and poor characterization, but this is powerful story. This is tragedy in all its beauty and messiness and heartache. The plot kept me coming back for more. And more. And more.
Could our beloved characters be redeemed? Could there be any meaning in the fallout?
Stedman does a fabulous job of not casting judgement on her characters. It’s up to us, the readers, to decide whether Tom and Isabel’s crime was evil or natural.
And, for all it’s flaws in character development, I loved the world of Janus Island and Australia. Stedman’s settings are beautiful and vivid.
As I hungrily read the last chapter on the floor of my bathroom at midnight, and I was surprised to find tears running down my face. Most books don’t make me cry. But this one did. This frustrating, stressful book of unfulfilled potential made me feel much more than I ever expected.
my internal dilemma:
The Light Between Oceans has some lovely symbolism about light, opposing forces, and reconciliation. The lighthouse is caught between the meeting place of two oceans. Our two main characters are diametrically opposite in personality and temperament. They are faced with choice that will define them for better or for worse … they come face to face with life and death.
There is something true beneath the surface here.
I guess my struggle is that The Light Between Oceans was an entertaining page turner that also had some qualities of good literature. And this messes up the categories I normally place books within. Normally I’ll say something was a page turner, but wasn’t very deep, or it wasn’t the easiest read, but was filled with depth and meaning.
The Light Between Oceans didn’t really accomplish either completely. But it did make an impact on me, and I can’t discount that.
This book shows of the importance of story. You can have beautiful language and stunning technique, but if your story stinks, it’s not going to resonate with anybody.
Ultimately, I think the greatest stories are ones that allow us to experience tragedy in such a way that we are pointed back to God somehow: we must be able to recognize our purpose in life beyond the people and circumstances we face.
It’s healthy in our privileged American life to vicariously experience sorrow and tragedy from time to time. Sometimes, we need to be reminded how to feel again.