Mel's Online Book Club Discussion: The Light Between Oceans By M. L. Stedman

Posted at 09:12am on 25th April 2015

The Light Between Oceans is, I discovered when I’d finished reading it for Book Club, a debut novel.  I wish I had known that when I began – but more of that later.  For various reasons we were a somewhat depleted group when we met to discuss the book, and there wasn’t a man in sight.  Without exception, we thoroughly enjoyed what we’d read, but all agreed that it was a story for women rather than for men.


The story begins with an excellent hook: on the day of the miracle.  What could have happened, we wanted to know, to make this so special a day?  What was it that the protagonist, Isabel, had experienced for her to make this statement?   As readers, we felt compelled to read on to find out.


The theme, too, was admirably set out on the first page: ‘lead us not into temptation . . . deliver us from evil’ Isabel prayed beside the small, newly made grave at which she was kneeling.

It was on that prayer, and the book’s title, that the whole ethos of the story hinged.  And what a clever premise it was!  For Isabel – Issy – and her husband, Tom, are led into temptation; they are not delivered from evil.  But unlike the conflict in most stories, there was no clear-cut good and evil.  No compulsion to take one side or the other.


In the book, Janus is an island off the coast of Australia.  Remote and rocky, it is set between two oceans, treacherous waters that require a lighthouse to warn the shipping of its dangers.  Tom, who has served in the First World War and wants, now, to escape the rigours of ordinary life, takes on the job of lighthouse keeper.  Married, eventually, to Issy, the two suffer the tragic loss of not one, but three, babies.  With excellent depictions of both the trauma of war and death, who can blame them for the decisions they take on the day of the miracle?

Faced with a boat that has washed up on shore, carrying a man who is deceased and a baby (his daughter?) who is alive but distraught, what would you do?  Only a fortnight after the loss of her own baby, Issy suckles the child, bonds with her, and persuades her husband that this is God’s provision – not only for them, but for the orphaned child as well.

Only the baby is not an orphan.  And herein lies the dilemma; the conflict; the compulsion to read on.


For just as the mythological Janus is a Roman god of beginnings and endings, whose double face looks both ways, so, too, is the reader baffled as to which side to look to for right or wrong.  And just as the lighthouse on the island served the sailors on two conflicting oceans, where they met in turmoil, so too, did our sense of moral obligation meet in turmoil with our emotions.  There were, we all agreed, no easy answers here.


Stedman’s strengths are many.  The losses of war are likened to the holes in Swiss cheese.  The churning seas are likened to ‘white paint, milky thick, the foam occasionally scraped off long enough to reveal a deep blue undercoat.’  And of the protocol demanded of him in his job, Tom acknowledges that ‘you could kill a man with rules . . . yet sometimes they were what stood between a man and savagery.’  Lines like: ‘no one is just the worst thing they ever did,’ or ‘putting down the burden of a lie meant giving up the freedom of the dream’ are profound, and designed to get us thinking.


Fortunately, the strengths far outweighed the weaknesses.  For me, as an author, however, the book began with too much Tell and not enough Show.  Changes of tense and viewpoint also slowed down the story as far as I was concerned.  So much so that I gave up on my first reading a year or so ago.  Thank goodness, though, that one of my Book Club members chose this book, and thus forced my hand.  The narrative, and the truths of compassion and mercy it conveyed, will long live on in my memory.

This Book Review, Questions or Discussion Summary may be reproduced in printed format or on any non-commercial website or blog on condition that the following copyright line and bio are prominently displayed beneath it.

© Copyright Mel Menzies: USED BY PERMISSION

Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies runs an Online Book Club and is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. This article, in its original form, can be found at

Pre-order Mel's latest book, Time to Shine (2nd edition due 26th June, 2015) from Waterstones and, on proof of purchase, receive a free copy of either Where is my Child? or Healed Within 

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25th October 2016
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