Thursday, August 29, 2013


Recently my Third Thursday Book Club read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Every one of our members enjoyed the book and the discussion went on for well over an hour and could have continued because of the very richness of this tale.

The reviews were many and good for this debut novel, too. Stedman is a native of Australia now living in London. She knows this land of which she writes and makes it real to us with her descriptions. I liked the book so much that I wanted to share it with my Red Read Robin Book Club so I chose it for our meeting tonight at my house with dinner and wine followed by a discussion of the book. I have a feeling it will also go on for some time.

The blurb at the back reads: “After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.”

The book begins with the scene where the baby is discovered almost six years after chapter one.
It starts with:  "On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. ‘. . . and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’ she whispered.”

It was just after this when she hears a baby’s cry and they find the baby. It wasn’t until I started reading it for the second time that I realized how important that part of The Lord’s Prayer was to the theme of the whole story.

Last week I mentioned the writing advice Stuart Woods gave to a beginning writer – “There are no rules except those you create page by page.”  M. L. Stedman is a debut writer, and there was one thing I noticed in her writing that probably many writers would think is unacceptable. She would occasionally go from the traditional third person past tense to a passage of third person present tense. However, not one person in my other book club noticed this, and I’m curious to see if anyone in this book club will have noticed it, either. If I had more time to study each of these passages I might be able to figure out her purpose, but I don’t and it didn’t really bother me beyond being curious about it. In my opinion, it’s more about telling a good story, and if a writer does that, he/she can bend the rules here and there.

I’m not going to list all twenty-five of the excellent reviews both on the back and inside, but here are a few:

“A beautifully delineated tale of love and loss, right and wrong, and what we will do for the happiness of those most dear.” – The Boston Globe

“Told with the authoritative simplicity of a fable . . . Stedman’s intricate descriptions of the craggy Australian coastline and her easy mastery of an old-time provincial vernacular are engrossing. As the couple at the lighthouse are drawn into an increasingly tragic set of consequences, these remote, strange lives are rendered immediate and familiar.” – The New Yorker

“Haunting . . . Stedman draws the reader into her emotionally complex story right from the beginning, with lush descriptions of this savage and beautiful landscape, and vivid characters with whom we can readily empathize. Hers is a stunning and memorable debut.” - Booklist

One of the things I enjoy about book clubs in addition to being able to discuss a book we've all read, is discovering new books I may never have heard of. In most cases, I'm glad I had the opportunity to read the book.

Have you ever belonged to a book club? If you haven't, do you think you'd like to - even if they don't serve wine like the one I'm having this evening?


  1. It's interesting that nobody else noticed the change in tenses. You read with a writer's eye!

  2. It sounds kije a fascinating book.

  3. Gloria, this sounds like a terrific read, with a gripping moral dilemma for a book club to discuss.
    I have caught myself shifting tenses like that, when I am caught up in something intense a character is going through....and my beta readers did not see it either. Sometimes we get pulled into the character's "present" when we are fully involved in the story?
    Being in a book club makes me try books beyond my usual comfort zone - and I have loved many of the books I would not have chosen myself.

  4. What an interesting book, Gloria. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about it at your meeting.

    I’ve thought about joining a book club but I haven’t because of the time commitment. Although it sounds like a lot of fun, and a way to learn about new books.

  5. I think you're right, Carla. Also, there have been time when I've switched tenses when my protagonist is thinking without specifying she is thinking so I'm more aware of it now.

    Warren, it is a fascinating book and although Australia isn't New Zealand, it is in the general area so you would probably like the book, too.

    Shari, it does have a gripping moral delemma. Most of the books picked I've never heard or planned on reading but haven't got around to it. When I'm hosting I always pick a book like THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS that I've read and enjoyed. Usually, I pick a mystery.

    Kara, the only time commitment is the several hours the meeting takes once a month and reading the book chosen for that month. If you find you don't like the book, you don't really have to finish it. Of course, I put off joining one when I was teaching because of the time commitment so I can understand.

    And now back to cleaning, cooking and all that other stuff before everyone comes tonight.

  6. This sounds like a fascinating book, Gloria!

    I'm in two book clubs, but I think I'm going to have to get out because I'm having to miss so many meetings. I love the discussions when I have the chance to go, however.

  7. It is a fascinating book, Linda. I understand how it's hard to have to make all the meetings. In one of my book clubs - the one without dinner and wine - a few members don't come often because of time constraints, but we are all happy to see them when they do come. Sometimes there are 10 to 12 there and sometimes only 4 or 5. And sometimes members will show up without having read the book just because they enjoy our company. I did not know one person in this book club and only one in the other one and now I consider them all my good friends.

  8. Most of the book clubs I've belonged to always broke down into conversation about other things. A few 'I liked it' comments and that was about it. For one, even if I liked it, I tried to be critical just to get some discussion going. Mostly I got blank stares.
    My present club broke down into three varieties-strictly conversation, a hard line for discussion about the book and no genre, and the old version where anything goes. The conversation club is all I've seen meeting for the summer.

  9. Ooops sorry, forgot to mention the book. I didn't read it because I never read 5 star review, like them but giving something 5 stars says it all. But the ONE stars, well, that's an experience in itself. This one got 49 one-stars. I didn't read them all, but didn't find any of those mean spirited, didn't read the book, insults to the personal life of the author things, but the ones I did read considered in less than chick-lit and a beach read only if you like 'girly' reads (whatever that is).
    I dislike redundancy, so my favorite comment was:
    "If I read one more "Izzy Bella, Darl" or am reminded again about Tom's post-war era ghosts in an effort to endear these intolerable characters to me I'm going to kick a puppy."
    But, that's just me.

  10. That's strange, Pat. The book reviews I read were from Kirkus, New York Times and other well-respected reviewers. My book clubs have conversation, too, but we also put a lot of time in discussing the book, unless none of us cared for it. This one even our most critical readers had nothing but positive comments to make on it.

  11. Well, to each his own, but I do like comparing those reviews. And since my own POV on many things is a little off, I find the one stars interesting.
    OTOH, info about how the NYT does their reviews do not encourage me to think much of them. And you have to pay Kirkus now for reviews.

  12. Gloria, I appreciate learning about this book. My book club has begun to reread Agatha Christie books. This month, the selection is Cat Among the Pigeons. I'm really enjoying renewing an acquaintance with this story.

  13. How fun, Paula, to reread all the Agatha Christie books and to discuss them with others. I can't remember when or if I read Cat Among the Pigeons. I'll have to see if I have it on my shelves.

    My book club went so well tonight. All eleven attending really enjoyed the book and the discussions on different questions went on and on with some differences on whether or not Tom should have divulged the truth when he did. The moral dilemma left us with a lot of different opinions, but it was unanimous that this was a good book and one they all enjoyed reading. Some thought the ending was good and a few wish it had ended differently.

  14. Mom, I am wondering if you are serving wine from Napa?

  15. No, Mary. I had an elderberry wine the beekeeper gave to me and everyone loved plus another brand of something or other, but not from Napa Valley, I don't think. I got it at Aldi's. They pretty much polished off both bottles but didn't start on the third. :-)