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?