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The Light Between Oceans is a novel exploring grief, tragedy and the grittiness of reality. Tom Shelbourne returns from the horrors of France in WWI to settle for an idyllic, simple life. He falls in love with captivating the Isobel Graysmark while in Point Partageuse, whom he takes to Janus Rock while he fills the position of the lighthouse keeper. The storyline develops as a vulnerable child becomes washed up on the shore.

Isobel struggles to choose between what is right and her own needs, while Tom battles with supporting his love or fulfilling his responsibility to make the right decision. Littered with tragic events upon little grey Janus Rock, The Light Between Oceans proves to be an extremely emotive novel. Admittedly, I found it difficult to relate to the story, and I was left feeling unsatisfied by the end. In a lot of cases, this actually highlights to me a good book, one that leaves a lasting impression. How did such an idyllic novel become so dark and tragic? Isobel’s happiness inadvertently catalyses a whole chain of events that ultimately shatter the peace, tranquillity, and the love she once experienced with Tom.

Having never read a novel set in Australia, I found the story captivating. M. L. Stedman skilfully weaves sensual descriptions of ocean sprays and fresh sea air to create a truly beautiful backdrop to the narrative. It is the contrast from this beauty to such tragic horror that makes The Light Between Oceans so compelling. Janus Rock is so disconnected a setting to Point Partageuse, which leads to a conflict in the text. How could Isobel drop a life in such a tight-knit community for one of complete isolation?

The novel was conflicting in its representation of Isobel. Sometimes the reader is led to see the character as cruel and callous in her deprivation of a grieving mother her child. But these emotions towards Isobel can be confused easily through her desperation and desire for a child after so much loss. Tom is an equally perplexing character. While he seems to be extremely conflicted from the horrific scenes of WWI, I strongly admired his undying love for Isobel and how battled with this love to reunite mother and daughter. He is an extremely wholesome character, completely captivated by Isobel.

Stedman has crafted an exquisitely beautiful book; it is both classy but extremely harsh as it deals with such raw emotions. Albeit it’s quite lengthy, but the novel flows, meaning that it is an easy read for anybody looking for a little romance and a lot of tragedy.

Words by Megan Tarbuck

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