This is a debut novel by M.L. Stedman and to be honest I thought I was reading an established author who was able to create and craft a story which captures your heart.
We are transported to Australia in fact to the bottom of the world where you can see nothing but the sea and the sky, we are on Janus Rock where the Janus lighthouse stands, between the two oceans. It is the last sight of Australia that Tom Sherbourne saw, as he left to fight in the Great War. Tom was one of the lucky ones to return, unscathed but the destruction he had seen had made him wary of the future. Moving into the nineteen twenties Tom is now lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. An unpopular posting because of its hardship and a job which I think you must have a certain sort of mental attitude to do.
On clear summer days, Janus seems to stretch up right to its tiptoes: you’d swear it’s higher out of the water at some times than at others, not just because of the rising and ebbing of the tide. It can disappear altogether in rainstorms…
On his first visit to the lighthouse, he stops at the nearest port town, Port Partageuse where the ship will take him to complete isolation, just him, the land, the force of the sea and nature and the solitary light which helps guide all away from the rocks. Here in the town he meets another force of nature Isabel Graysmark who makes her mark just as the rocks do to the unfortunate ships that do not make it.
Their courtship is a protracted affair, with no communication other than letters every three months and swift replies being written before the store boat leaves, otherwise time lapses on. The isolation of their love is very strong and Stedman brings this across so well. I knew no matter what that Isabel and Tom were meant to be together and that they could fight anything that was brought against them, from early on in the book that is the foundation of their relationship. To be able to give everything up, communication, family and luxury to isolation was a big ask, Isabel fitted in better than I thought and embraced life both past events which tragically took her brothers in the war but also in the present where she met Tom. Tom on the other hand was never comfortable in the past and the present was all there was, structure was needed to be a lighthouse keeper and keep Tom safe.
For both of them the future was not going as they hoped, and tragedy strikes them more than once, but despite everything Janus Rock, brings them light, hope and a future. Isabel and Tom are both oceans that are drawn together by a light and driven apart by one. As the truth becomes known, to everyone else. We are in on the secret as readers with Isabel and Tom. Is right to carry on even when it is wrong? Can the guilt of the past be healed by the actions of the future? Only by reading the book will you know and as you do, you question what you would do in that situation. This book raises so many questions, but this does not for me detract from the book it makes even more richer.
To areas of the book which I would like to mention are the passages dealing with the First World War, dealt with tenderly but still showing the brutality and futility of war in some cases. Remembering that the Australians did fight in the First World War. Many books concentrate solely on the British involvement and other nationalities and countries are invariable overlooked.
The other is the routine and role of a keeper of the light is covered quite fully, the author had done her research even to the scientific aspect of the light itself made easy for all non science readers like myself. I was fascinated about such a place, the isolation which is a word I have used frequently in this review is there for a reason. I think the isolation that Stedman uses in this book, is not one of loneliness but of a greater element, the elements all around us living, the sea the greatest of them all perhaps?
A début novel from an author that I feel has much more to give and look forward to reading what comes.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this review copy.
This is shaping up to be one of my favourite reads of 2012 and we are only in February! I think the subject matter is different, and not something I would to be honest have chosen had I not been sent this by the publishers. I was so entranced by this place, I had to Google it, but discovered it as a fictitious place, but I would love to know where it was meant to be located in Australia. I did lose the sense of location without a map to reference, distance from land and in some ways civilisation. It would have been a great addition to the book to enhance the descriptive prose.
I am not sure I would like to live in such a place for years at a time, but I think for me it would make a great holiday place, a real chance to escape and see the elements at one and nature fighting itself, from the rough to the calm knowing that there is a light to guide everyone home wherever that maybe. Obviously you would have taken lots of books to read, cakes to eat and tea to drink!
The Light Between Oceans is published on 26 April