Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Light Between Oceans -- M.L. Stedman

Every Tuesday, unless I forget or have something better to do, I post a review I originally posted on Goodreads in the near and not so near past.  Some of the books may no longer be in print, but I hope that most of the really good ones have survived. I'll do my best to let you know if one that is out of circulation is worth the time to find, though. I promise. Unless I forget.

This review of M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans originally appeared in August of 2012. Some editing has been done for this venue. 

When you're a bookseller in a small shop you develop, over time, a clientele that is loyal to you specifically, because your tastes click and they have come to trust your judgement.  By this criteria, Ms. W was most assuredly not one of my customers. Nothing I have recommended to her these past 25 years or so has suited her, and she has always taken great delight in letting me know. My co-worker is better with her, and it does not bruise my ego when Ms. W asks for her help, even if she has to wait a bit on her to finish up with another customer or another task.

It just so happened one day that I was at lunch when  Ms. W came in. My co-worker handed this book to her, based on what she'd heard me say about it to others, and Ms. W took it not realizing it wasn't really my co-worker's personal recommendation.  

About a week later, Ms. W came in the store, threw her elbow up on the counter, and said to my counterpart, "That book? That lighthouse thing?"  (At this point the hair on the back of my neck went up -- because I was itching to come to its defense when she slammed it.) "Well," she continued, "that might be the best book I've read in a long time."

I about fell off my stool. She did not know that it was one of "my" books, and when I chimed in -- I couldn't help it -- I think she was shocked, too. After all these years.... good lord gravy... I should probably just have retired right then and there. 

You have surmised, I am quite certain, that I liked this book, and the reason I'm telling this story and reposting this review is that I really am an apostle for it, and if you haven't read it yet, you must. You really must. 

The Light Between Oceans, set just after World War I,  is the story of a young couple who make their home on a lighthouse island, secluded from the rest of the world save for occasional trips to or visits by others from the mainland. Their attempts at having a child have all ended in heartbreak, and when a boat comes ashore their island with a man's dead body and a very much alive infant in it, they take the child in as their own. Things get complicated when, years later, a trip to the mainland yields clear clues as to the true identity of the child. 

I don't know when I've read a novel so full of characters who are all trying to do the right thing in all the wrong ways... or doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons, and what the novel has to say about how strong a marriage can be even with its broken places intact is profound. 

There was a scene at the end of the book that was so emotionally perfect I could scarcely bear to turn the page, and which, for me, provided catharsis owing to something that had happened not long before in my own life. (I find that even now I cannot write about it, but it was so powerful that I still feel it's impact in near full force a year later.) 

This novel wasn't perfect. There were a couple of plot developments that felt unnecessarily rushed and contrived, and I can't help but wonder if that wasn't an editor's misguided influence. That said, when I can think about a book a year after I've read it and still have an emotional reaction to it........ well. 

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