The Light Between Oceans: Part 1

Hi there, Bookies!

I hope you’re enjoying the first section of The Light Between Oceans. Author M.L. Stedman had me hooked after just the first few pages of the novel. An isolated beach, a mysterious corpse, a (presumably?) orphaned infant—the flash-forward section was compelling and captured my interest immediately. What did you think of the flash-forward? Did this structure work for you?

Twenty-eight-year-old Tom is alone in the world and haunted by his recent experiences as a soldier on the Western Front. Estranged from his family and without any close friends, Tom is intent on keeping people at a distance while he copes with the lives he has taken and the losses he has suffered. He decides to take a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the Australian coast, hoping that “if he can only get far enough away—from people, from memory—time will do its job.” I can’t begin to imagine the horrors that Tom endured. In the quiet moments of this first section, I find myself being drawn to Tom, hoping that he can find some solace from his painful past.

Tom may want to live in complete isolation, but all bets are off when he meets the high-spirited, sunny Isabel. They meet-cute feeding seagulls, exchange a few letters during his first stint away, then decide to marry after only a two-week courtship. Though the decision seems impetuous, Isabel’s warm nature and easy temperament make Tom feel hopeful, calm, and at ease for the first time since returning from the war. With Isabel, Tom dwells less on his past and is ready to look toward the future. I personally loved the close of this section of the novel, when Tom surprises Isabel by inviting a piano specialist to the island to fix their broken instrument. Isabel marches off impetuously (and, to be blunt, childishly) when she thinks that Tom has called a doctor against her wishes. Realizing her mistake, Isabel and Tom stand forehead to forehead, only to break into laughter over the misunderstanding. In that moment, when Isabel wordlessly apologizes for her behavior and Tom wordlessly forgives her, I felt the love between them. What do you think? Are they a good match?

Throughout the first section of the book, Tom prides himself on his strong moral compass. He clings to the ideals of honor, justice, and dependability as he learns how to navigate the postwar world, and refuses to follow the example of other ex-soldiers who have lost their sense of right and wrong. When Tom finally succumbs to Isabel’s charms, though, he thinks “to hell with good behavior. To hell with doing the right thing.” Do you think Tom’s love for Isabel could cause a blind spot in his moral compass? Tom yields to Isabel’s wishes again in the 1926 flash-forward. A dingy appears on the island’s shore containing a man’s corpse and a tiny, healthy baby girl. Though he knows that he is morally obligated to report the death and the infant immediately, Tom grants his wife’s request to wait until morning to alert the authorities. He is uncomfortable with his decision, yet he feels he owes his grieving wife this one small consolation. Tom is in mourning himself, and watching his wife care for the infant momentarily quiets his own sorrow. Were you outraged by Tom’s decision to wait to contact the authorities, or did you think it was an understandable lapse in judgment? I’ll admit, I was originally pretty outraged, but after reading about their heartache and the losses they’ve suffered, I don’t know that I can condemn them.

There are so many more avenues that I want to explore: Tom’s relationship with his parents and brother, how Isabel copes with their isolated living situation, and, of course, the mysterious baby from the first pages. I can’t wait to dive into Part 2—hopefully there will be some more answers. In the meantime, I would love to hear all of your thoughts and reactions to the first part in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Until next time,