The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans

4.3 1547
by M.L. Stedman

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The years-long New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg’s Dreamworks that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and

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The years-long New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg’s Dreamworks that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on 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.

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Editorial Reviews

If Tom Sherbourne had wanted tranquility, he seemed to have found the perfect place on Australia's Janus Rock. As lighthouse keeper on this remote island, he and his young wife Isabel had found a home where he could free himself from the painful memories of four hellish years on World War I's western front. As he healed, there was one new cause of great frustration though; after his wife's two miscarriages and a stillbirth, their dreams of a family appeared to have dissolved. That changed, however, when a small boat washed ashore carrying a corpse and a living baby. With that shipwreck discovery, decisions must be made that will radically change several lives. An artfully written debut novel not soon to be forgotten; now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

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Gale Group
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Large Print
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5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

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Light Between Oceans


    16th December 1918

    Yes, I realize that,” Tom Sherbourne said. He was sitting in a spartan room, barely cooler than the sultry day outside. The Sydney summer rain pelted the window, and sent the people on the pavement scurrying for shelter.

    “I mean very tough.” The man across the desk leaned forward for emphasis. “It’s no picnic. Not that Byron Bay’s the worst posting on the Lights, but I want to make sure you know what you’re in for.” He tamped down the tobacco with his thumb and lit his pipe. Tom’s letter of application had told the same story as many a fellow’s around that time: born 28 September 1893; war spent in the Army; experience with the International Code and Morse; physically fit and well; honorable discharge. The rules stipulated that preference should be given to ex-servicemen.

    “It can’t—” Tom stopped, and began again. “All due respect, Mr. Coughlan, it’s not likely to be tougher than the Western Front.”

    The man looked again at the details on the discharge papers, then at Tom, searching for something in his eyes, in his face. “No, son. You’re probably right on that score.” He rattled off some rules: “You pay your own passage to every posting. You’re relief, so you don’t get holidays. Permanent staff get a month’s leave at the end of each three-year contract.” He took up his fat pen and signed the form in front of him. As he rolled the stamp back and forth across the inkpad he said, “Welcome”—he thumped it down in three places on the paper—“to the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.” On the form, “16th December 1918” glistened in wet ink.

    The six months’ relief posting at Byron Bay, up on the New South Wales coast, with two other keepers and their families, taught Tom the basics of life on the Lights. He followed that with a stint down on Maatsuyker, the wild island south of Tasmania where it rained most days of the year and the chickens blew into the sea during storms.

    On the Lights, Tom Sherbourne has plenty of time to think about the war. About the faces, the voices of the blokes who had stood beside him, who saved his life one way or another; the ones whose dying words he heard, and those whose muttered jumbles he couldn’t make out, but who he nodded to anyway.

    Tom isn’t one of the men whose legs trailed by a hank of sinews, or whose guts cascaded from their casing like slithering eels. Nor were his lungs turned to glue or his brains to stodge by the gas. But he’s scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then. He carries that other shadow, which is cast inward.

    He tries not to dwell on it: he’s seen plenty of men turned worse than useless that way. So he gets on with life around the edges of this thing he’s got no name for. When he dreams about those years, the Tom who is experiencing them, the Tom who is there with blood on his hands, is a boy of eight or so. It’s this small boy who’s up against blokes with guns and bayonets, and he’s worried because his school socks have slipped down and he can’t hitch them up because he’ll have to drop his gun to do it, and he’s barely big enough even to hold that. And he can’t find his mother anywhere.

    Then he wakes and he’s in a place where there’s just wind and waves and light, and the intricate machinery that keeps the flame burning and the lantern turning. Always turning, always looking over its shoulder.

    If he can only get far enough away—from people, from memory—time will do its job.

    Thousands of miles away on the west coast, Janus Rock was the furthest place on the continent from Tom’s childhood home in Sydney. But Janus Light was the last sign of Australia he had seen as his troopship steamed for Egypt in 1915. The smell of the eucalypts had wafted for miles offshore from Albany, and when the scent faded away he was suddenly sick at the loss of something he didn’t know he could miss. Then, hours later, true and steady, the light, with its five-second flash, came into view—his homeland’s furthest reach—and its memory stayed with him through the years of hell that followed, like a farewell kiss. When, in June 1920, he got news of an urgent vacancy going on Janus, it was as though the light there were calling to him.

    Teetering on the edge of the continental shelf, Janus was not a popular posting. Though its Grade One hardship rating meant a slightly higher salary, the old hands said it wasn’t worth the money, which was meager all the same. The keeper Tom replaced on Janus was Trimble Docherty, who had caused a stir by reporting that his wife was signaling to passing ships by stringing up messages in the colored flags of the International Code. This was unsatisfactory to the authorities for two reasons: first, because the Deputy Director of Lighthouses had some years previously forbidden signaling by flags on Janus, as vessels put themselves at risk by sailing close enough to decipher them; and secondly, because the wife in question was recently deceased.

    Considerable correspondence on the subject was generated in triplicate between Fremantle and Melbourne, with the Deputy Director in Fremantle putting the case for Docherty and his years of excellent service, to a Head Office concerned strictly with efficiency and cost and obeying the rules. A compromise was reached by which a temporary keeper would be engaged while Docherty was given six months’ medical leave.

    “We wouldn’t normally send a single man to Janus—it’s pretty remote and a wife and family can be a great practical help, not just a comfort,” the District Officer had said to Tom. “But seeing it’s only temporary… You’ll leave for Partageuse in two days,” he said, and signed him up for six months.

    There wasn’t much to organize. No one to farewell. Two days later, Tom walked up the gangplank of the boat, armed with a kit bag and not much else. The SS Prometheus worked its way along the southern shores of Australia, stopping at various ports on its run between Sydney and Perth. The few cabins reserved for first-class passengers were on the upper deck, toward the bow. In third class, Tom shared a cabin with an elderly sailor. “Been making this trip for fifty years—they wouldn’t have the cheek to ask me to pay. Bad luck, you know,” the man had said cheerfully, then returned his attention to the large bottle of over-proof rum that kept him occupied. To escape the alcohol fumes, Tom took to walking the deck during the day. Of an evening there’d usually be a card game belowdecks.

    You could still tell at a glance who’d been over there and who’d sat the war out at home. You could smell it on a man. Each tended to keep to his own kind. Being in the bowels of the vessel brought back memories of the troopships that took them first to the Middle East, and later to France. Within moments of arriving on board, they’d deduced, almost by an animal sense, who was an officer, who was lower ranks; where they’d been.

    Just like on the troopships, the focus was on finding a bit of sport to liven up the journey. The game settled on was familiar enough: first one to score a souvenir off a first-class passenger was the winner. Not just any souvenir, though. The designated article was a pair of ladies’ drawers. “Prize money’s doubled if she’s wearing them at the time.”

    The ringleader, a man by the name of McGowan, with a mustache, and fingers yellowed from his Woodbines, said he’d been chatting to one of the stewards about the passenger list: the choice was limited. There were ten cabins in all. A lawyer and his wife—best give them a wide berth; some elderly couples, a pair of old spinsters (promising), but best of all, some toff’s daughter traveling on her own.

    “I reckon we can climb up the side and in through her window,” he announced. “Who’s with me?”

    The danger of the enterprise didn’t surprise Tom. He’d heard dozens of such tales since he got back. Men who’d taken to risking their lives on a whim—treating the boom gates at level crossings as a gallop jump; swimming into rips to see if they could get out. So many men who had dodged death over there now seemed addicted to its lure. Still, this lot were free agents now. Probably just full of talk.

    The following night, when the nightmares were worse than usual, Tom decided to escape them by walking the decks. It was two a.m. He was free to wander wherever he wanted at that hour, so he paced methodically, watching the moonlight leave its wake on the water. He climbed to the upper deck, gripping the stair rail to counter the gentle rolling, and stood a moment at the top, taking in the freshness of the breeze and the steadiness of the stars that showered the night.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a glimmer come on in one of the cabins. Even first-class passengers had trouble sleeping sometimes, he mused. Then, some sixth sense awoke in him—that familiar, indefinable instinct for trouble. He moved silently toward the cabin, and looked in through the window.

    In the dim light, he saw a woman flat against the wall, pinned there even though the man before her wasn’t touching her. He was an inch away from her face, with a leer Tom had seen too often. He recognized the man from belowdecks, and remembered the prize. Bloody idiots. He tried the door, and it opened.

    “Leave her alone,” he said as he stepped into the cabin. He spoke calmly, but left no room for debate.

    The man spun around to see who it was, and grinned when he recognized Tom. “Christ! Thought you were a steward! You can give me a hand, I was just—”

    “I said leave her alone! Clear out. Now.”

    “But I haven’t finished. I was just going to make her day.” He reeked of drink and stale tobacco.

    Tom put a hand on his shoulder, with a grip so hard that the man cried out. He was a good six inches shorter than Tom, but tried to take a swing at him all the same. Tom seized his wrist and twisted it. “Name and rank!”

    “McKenzie. Private. 3277.” The unrequested serial number followed like a reflex.

    “Private, you’ll apologize to this young lady and you’ll get back to your bunk and you won’t show your face on deck until we berth, you understand me?”

    “Yes, sir!” He turned to the woman. “Beg your pardon, Miss. Didn’t mean any harm.”

    Still terrified, the woman gave the slightest nod.

    “Now, out!” Tom said, and the man, deflated by sudden sobriety, shuffled from the cabin.

    “You all right?” Tom asked the woman.

    “I—I think so.”

    “Did he hurt you?”

    “He didn’t…”—she was saying it to herself as much as to him—“he didn’t actually touch me.”

    He took in the woman’s face—her gray eyes seemed calmer now. Her dark hair was loose, in waves down to her arms, and her fists still gathered her nightgown to her neck. Tom reached for her dressing gown from a hook on the wall and draped it over her shoulders.

    “Thank you,” she said.

    “Must have got an awful fright. I’m afraid some of us aren’t used to civilized company these days.”

    She didn’t speak.

    “You won’t get any more trouble from him.” He righted a chair that had been overturned in the encounter. “Up to you whether you report him, Miss. I’d say he’s not the full quid now.”

    Her eyes asked a question.

    “Being over there changes a man. Right and wrong don’t look so different any more to some.” He turned to go, but put his head back through the doorway. “You’ve got every right to have him up on charges if you want. But I reckon he’s probably got enough troubles. Like I said—up to you,” and he disappeared through the door.

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    The Light Between Oceans 4.3 out of 5 based on 6 ratings. 1547 reviews.
    shayrp76 More than 1 year ago
    Tom Sherbourne finds peace as a light house keeper on a secluded island after the brutality he witnessed in war. The routine and distance helps him sort out his emotions and brings him peace. He couldn’t imagine sharing his life with anyone until he marries Isabel and she makes their rock feel like home. Their secluded life has its share of happiness but heartbreak soon sets in after several miscarriages making the seclusion feel suffocating for Isabel. When a boat washes up in their little world carrying a dead man and a living baby, life seems to take a wonderful turn. Isabel has never been happier but Tom is plagued with unease and when a trip back to the mainland brings troubling facts to light he yearns to do what is just. An emotional rollercoaster doesn’t begin to describe what it felt like to read this. With each page I questioned what I had felt while reading the previous page. The characters are amazingly real with such humanity that I wanted to talk to them or yell at them. There are a couple of characters that I hated to love and one that I loved to hate so that made it very hard to decide where I stood with each individual story line. I have no complaints about this one. I am already recommending it and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great book, beautifully written. In a time where Fifty Shades of Grey and other such rubbish get rave reviews it's nice to read a book worthy of the accolades it has received. I am looking forward to more books from this author.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Loved it...couldn't put it down. The story is heartbreakingly beautiful and while the ending acknowledges the pain, it also offers hope. This book is in my top 10 of all time. I'll be thinking about the story for quite a while.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have never before felt the desire to rate or reccomend a book. This time however, it was different. I was trappped in this beautifully well written story from page one. Fell in love with the characters, suffered with them, wept for them. Read the book in three days and it definetly goes to my "top five" list.
    CharlieKay More than 1 year ago
    After the handful of e-mails I received promoting this book, I decided to pick it up. All I can say is: WOW! What a truly beautiful tale of tragic love. I couldn't put the book down. I found myself completely in love with the characters, their story, and felt my heart ache for them. I cried my way through the last chapter. I don't even want to pick up another book because I'm still so wrapped up in Tom and Isabel's lives. Definitely one of my Top 10 books!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had a hard time putting it down. Characters were pretty well developed and the author does a decent job of taking you to a different place in time. I'd love to visit Janus for a month or so.... just the idea of it being just you and the wind and sea; like you are part of something, another world entirely. One can dream.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book. Read it in one day. The characters were well developed and very real. I had such mixed emotions about the two women in the story who loved the little girl. My heart went out to both of them. They were all very coureageous people, the women and the men. In the end, each of them lost something. A good book for book club. Lots of discussions.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The word pictures are wonderful. The story line unforgettable A must read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    One of the most well crafted books I have read in a while. Rich language and a wonderful, emotiinal story.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a novel I think I may have to read again--I can't quite get it out of my mind. Stedman is a lovely writer; for such a complex story and set of characters this is a rather slim book, for which I'm grateful. I'm sick of overblown novels that needed to be cut at least in half. "Oceans" is a grown up, beautifully written story with complex characters. It shows the too often painful consequences of getting what we so desperately want and choices made in the name of love. ***The language is lyrical, almost poetic at times. This is not a fast-paced tale for the first 120 pages or so; indeed, at times it tends to drag a bit. BUT when Lucy is discovered and her origins revealed--this becomes taunt and heartbreaking. ***While it's impossible not to feel for Tom, Isabel is a harder character to embrace and it wasn't until the last 100 pages that I really did--then the parallels bewteen Isabel and Hannah, their plights and precarious emotional states, converge beautifully. These are two women at odds yet constantly shifting places in the same heartbreaking dance. ***The only element, besides the momentary places of slowness is Lucy's eventual situation--[SPOILERISH]--her terror and refusal to accept Hannah is incredibly vivid, yet her final acceptance of Hannah seems to be wrapped up too vaguely and quickly after the more detailed prior events. That did not ring true or balanced for me. But this is a novel that if you stay with it--gives you lovely rewards, a story where the characters' ultimate motives can be discussed for a long time. i think it's worth the read and discussion afterward.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a definite must read. I loved the characters and the storyline. One of the best books I have read in a while!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This powerful, compelling, beautifull, well written story will capture your attention from the first page down to the last sentence of this book. The characters of Tom and Isabel are so strong, I became immersed in their lives. You will feel the unbelievable love and unbreakable bond between a mother and her child. The authors description of the island was so vivid that I almost felt the wind in my face and force of the ferocious storms that swept through the island. I felt myself standing inside the lighthouse, taking in the sights and smells, and looking out into the immense ocean. Life for Tom and Isabel on the island seemed idylic, when in reality, it was not. It was harsh and lonely, and they had only themselves to rely upon. So when the small boat washed ashore with the live infant and the dead body, to Isabel it was a sign from God. Afer suffering through three miscarriages, the moment that she held the baby in her arms, she was never going to let go. Even after Tom's refusal of accepting the baby and trying to make her understand the damage they might be inflicting upon themselves, Isabel refused to listen to reason. I think she might have been on the verge of a complete mental breakdown had it not been for the baby. It was too much for a woman to bear. Miscarriages, complete isolation for months at a time, and the obligations, and responsibilities, that Tom's job demanded all contributed to Isabel's state of mind. The life altering decision to keep their silence regarding the dead man and deciding to keep the baby and claim it as their own, had terrible consequences, one they never could have imagined, it almost destroyed them. But after reading through all that sorrow, there was a happy ending, with a pleasant surprise. I had time to reflect on who to place the blame for that fateful decision, was it Tom or Isabel. I would place it on a combination of things, but leaning towards Tom. Their isolation was a big factor, after all who would know and see what they did on that island. This is a great book, by a highly talented author, a must read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is one fantastic book. If I could give it more stars I would. For a debut novel, It makes you happy and sad all at the same time. I was completely shocked by the ending though. I only hope this author has more books in store for us. Read this one, you will surely love it as I did.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What a great story!! Will archive to read it again. Will recommend to all my reading friends.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was excellent. I felt empathy for all the characters. They were very well developed. His writing is beautifully lyrical but not heavy at all. I will definitely read his next book!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read this book in a day, interesting and compelling story, fair character development.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was a great read. I could see it being made into a great movie.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Excellent read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    You won't find any easy answers in The Light Between Oceans, but you will find a beautifully written and sensitively told story about people who make mistakes and learn to live with the aftermath. I highly recommend this book. It's impossible to read this book and not become totally drawn in by the characters: the withdrawn and haunted Tom, the bold and laughing Isabel, and all the people who call Partageuse home. It was also impossible for me to read this book and not to choose sides. One of the major images of the book is this meeting of opposites. Janus Rock stands where the warm Indian and cold Antarctic Oceans meet. It's where the taciturn Tom and the ebullient Isabel live. It's where a brilliant light flashes continuously throughout the dark nights. It's where a bad decision is made for all the right reasons. The town of Partageuse continues the image. Tom Sherbourne has miraculously survived World War I and finds himself in a small town in western Australia seeking work as a lighthouse keeper. A winner of medals of honor, he is no stranger to violence and killing. As he gets his first temporary job, he also meets Isabel, who becomes the love of his life. They begin a romance, marry and move to the isolated lighthouse, Janus, where they hope to start a family.  This is a good old-fashioned novel: plot driven with plenty of twists, well-drawn characters, poetic descriptions and good use of symbolism. Although I have never visited Western Australia, I could envision the places and people depicted in the book.      
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I could not get enough of this book! It is almost Dickensian in style and plot! M.L. Stedman has made a lifelong fan with this great debut novel!
    simple344 More than 1 year ago
    There are only few books with a great storyline. This was one of them. A great summer read.
    KathyS More than 1 year ago
    I just finished reading this novel last night. M. L. Stedman has to be one of the most outstanding writers of this century! I've never been so captivated, by not just character and story, but the atmosphere surrounding this lighthouse. It was inescapable; a living thing, breathing life into all that it touched.... This will be in my review of The Light Between Oceans....once I stop crying long enough to write it! Fortunately, I have stopped crying, but it was not easy reading these last few pages. When I showered this morning, I am sure a pound of salt washed down the drain. The salt air, my skin absorbed from these eloquent lines of Stedman, and the tears I shed for every one of these characters. No, not just ONE character, but ALL of them. I even shed tears for the Lighthouse, and the island it was on, if you can believe that! The one word that jumps out at me from this reading is the word LOVE. This author didn’t miss a beat, in showing us all sides and ramifications of that word. She gave it to us in actions, deeds, requests, withdrawals; Matters of the heart, the mind, the soul; Matters of the individuals, of the families, as adults, as children - nothing was missed in the telling of this story, even the love given to this Lighthouse was shown in glistening clarity. Solitary confinement lurked around in this story – The distance one takes, to protect oneself.... We dove into this solitary ocean, like swimmers diving for treasures....we found love was being held captive by shy, yet turbulent creatures. The message was deep, so very deep Stedman made us dive, that it hurt at times just trying to find that love, but when you did, the brilliance shown like this solitary candle light, from this Lighthouse. Even though this Lighthouse never had a speaking part, it had a voice that spoke out like the light it gave...crystal clear, through storms, through calm, through uncharted territory, it spoke to the reader, as it spoke to the sea. I love stories where there is no accounting for characters. Predictable, or unpredictable, that is the question we all have while reading. I never knew until the end page, what I was to expect from this writer. The only thing I did know throughout this story was, it holds something that is so personal, only the individual reader can interpret for themselves. We all make a life in this world, and it’s up to us, as individuals, to interpret our own circumstances; making choices the best we know how, but not always knowing the outcome until it happens. The choices are ours; the responsibility is ours. These characters had many choices in their lives, they may not have been the ones you would make, or maybe they would, I can’t answer for you. I only know I was torn in so many directions, while reading these circumstances that these character’s faced, I didn’t know which line of thought my own mind wanted to follow. It was real, as real and true as life itself. I recommend reading this book, if you take life seriously. I recommend reading this book, if you find your own choices too hard to make....after reading this book, you will think twice, taking a double take on your own life. I recommend reading this book....
    Cian More than 1 year ago
    What an incredible story! I stayed up late and finished it, tears falling as I closed the book. It touched me deeply about all the feeling we humans harbor within.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have tears in my eyes as i finish this book . One reason is that it was so incredibly touching and the other is that the book could not be a few hundred more pages !! One of the best books i have read in years.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    One of the best books i have ever read