The Light Between Oceans: A Review


Since having a baby my ability to watch, read, hear things about kids has totally changed. Gabe may have saved me but he also broke me, too. That whole thing in the news right now about the guy who left his 3 year old to die in the car on a hot day? I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t even discuss it with Kamel without absolutely breaking down in tears. I can’t watch movies where there is a stressful child situation, I can barely tolerate Game of Thrones when babies are involved. It’s just something about knowing, really knowing what a newborn sounds like, feels like, how helpless they are. Seeing Gabe’s face in every kid, in every story. I’m broken to make believe when it comes to upsetting stuff about kids.

Which is why I couldn’t finish The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. As wonderful as it is – and it really is a lovely, lovely read – I had to pull the plug when one day at work I actually, very literally, broke down into tears in a public place while reading. And nope. We can’t have that. I couldn’t even tell Kamel why I had been crying at lunch without starting to cry all over again! So yes. I am broken, and I couldn’t finish the book. But really, only because I’m crazy. The book is great. Helen will tell you!


This is Helen! She is one of the loveliest people, and she lives in Arkansas with her equally lovely wife Lindi. She can be found over at Clover and Lace. They do all things creative including photography! So if you are in the Arkansas area – look them up!

Unfortunately we only have Helen’s review (And my somewhat stunted (but still valid!) review) this time, but I have a feeling that several of you have also read this book, so I’m hoping there is some good insight in the comments. I also skipped ahead and read the last chapter, which ALSO made me sob. So yes… I am a sad broken puddle. Anyways, enough about me. On to the review!

Helen: I hadn’t actually heard of The Light Between Oceans before I received it as my assignment, but once I looked it up and read about it, I was very excited. It had excellent reviews, the synopsis sounded interesting, and it was in the Amazon top 100 for ‘Psychological thrillers’, ‘Historical fiction’ and ‘Domestic life.’ What a weird and intriguing combination!

Lauren: That combination of tags is hilarious and totally spot on. I am especially giggling at “Domestic Life” because all I can picture is a slighlty pinkish apron tied around a granny’s waist and a pie cooling on the counter. Which is not really this book at all, although a lot of beautiful home-y moments are laid out, with a ton of constant suspense, along with some rather interesting historical fiction. So yup, all there.

Helen: The book is set predominantly in the 1920s in Australia, and is about a retired soldier-turned-lighthouse keeper named Tom and the life he builds with his new wife Isabel on a remote island. The couple has lost several babies through miscarriage and stillbirth and are both bereft (especially Isabel), when one day, a small boat with a dead man and a living infant wash up on the shore of the island. At Isabel’s insistence they decide to keep the baby and raise her as their own, and the rest of the book is about the consequences of the choice they make.

Lauren: SO MANY REASONS WHY I CAN’T FINISH THIS BOOK. But you should, really. If you aren’t a broken, sobbing mess who is made uncomfortable by the sound of a crying newborn in a public place, you will love it. I promise.

Helen: I think the most clear recurring theme was the internal war between right and wrong that many of the characters (especially the protagonist, Tom) deal with throughout the book. The book is about love, loss, grief and redemption, and I was definitely on the edge of my seat waiting to see what choices some of the characters would make.

Lauren: I think a major theme is about following your gut and how not doing so can eat you up inside.

Helen: I think M.L. Stedman definitely succeeded in telling the story and I didn’t notice anything missing. I wasn’t left wondering anything at the end of the book, which is always nice. Stedman pays a lot of attention to the details of Janus Rock, the island that is the setting for most of the novel, and really brings the isolation and beauty of the sea to life.

Lauren: Even though I didn’t finish it, I read more than half and it is just a solid, classic, novel. Some of the stuff I review is more experimental maybe? And this was a good old fashioned story, no magic involved, just people living their lives, making mistakes, doing the best they can. And it is really, really well written.

Helen: Nothing about the book really surprised me, except some of the plot twists! I knew from reading the synopsis and a few sample pages that it was likely my kind of book.

Lauren: I was CONSTANTLY surprised it was set in Australia and I had to keep reminding myself that the seasons are backwards and so it would make sense why it was so cold in July. I really enjoyed reading something from a completely different country and time. I know there are a good number of blog readers from Australia and it made me feel proud to read something set from your country.

Helen: The book was very slow for the first fifty pages– it was fascinating, but also frustrating. Once I got past the first chapters, though, I was sucked into the drama between the characters and the writing itself. The prose is absolutely gorgeous and the story is captivating and heartbreaking. I cried through the last pages. I would absolutely recommend this book (and already did, actually, to a friend!)

I think this book is reminiscent of an older style of fiction moreso than current popular fiction, which I enjoyed. I like historical fiction quite a bit. The writing also reminded me quite a bit of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and I think fans of that book would enjoy this book as well.

Lauren: I actually did not find this slow at all. There is a constant tension running through everything, and even during the bits where there wasn’t any real tension, I really enjoyed reading about life and the historical and social significance WWI had on an entire generation.

I would actually love to see this as a movie – and I would sob through the entire thing. I never read Atonement, I only saw the movie and it does have the same flavor to it. A certain melancholy running just at the edges, even during the really happy parts.

Now then, Who has read The Light Between Oceans? Were you sobbing in public places? My god, don’t read it on a plane! This is one of those books I will lend to friends and hope they continue passing it on.

6 thoughts on “The Light Between Oceans: A Review”

  1. I had mixed feelings about this book, I think primarily because I couldn’t identify with Isabel and really hated her (I guess her decisions?) for most of the book. I could understand wanting a child that badly, but I couldn’t understand never having any doubts about what you did, or being so black and white that you blame your husband and completely abandon him for doing what he did. Ugh, I really did not like her. BUT excellent story, very well written, love historical fiction.

  2. It sounds really good, I particularly like stories where the sea is a major part of the story, and lighthouses fascinate me, but I am afraid reading it would make me really sad.

  3. I identified with Isabel so very much. Having gone through infertility and having doctors tell us that we would never conceive a child outside of IVF, I could completely sympathize with her. Once, when we were in the thick of it, my husband was working in a hospital in the NICU. He came home and joked that some of the babies were so small, he could just put one in his pocket and bring it home for us. [I cried SO HARD a lot reading this book. Good thing I read it at home.]

    I found the book to begin slowly, but quickly pick up. The descriptions were very thorough, but not overdone to the point where I would start skimming them. I found the plot intriguing and relatable. I found the characters’ actions plausible and felt their struggle. I kept myself up for weeks debating what I would have done at various points. I found myself debating who I would side with more: my husband or my baby. Where do my loyalties lie (Lay? I never get that right.)?

    This book is a wonderful and thoughtful read, but it is not for the faint of heart.

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