The Light Between Oceans

M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans tells what can happen when decisions that are made in isolation are brought into the light of society. Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia after years of fighting abroad and becomes the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island. The island is far off the coast and Tom is only visited every 3 months by Ralph and Bluey to deliver any mail and provisions. While in this isolated, although beautiful, environment, Tom begins a romance with a young woman he had met when he first arrived to takeover the lighthouse, Isabel.

Their written romance soon becomes physical and Isabel marries Tom and moves to Janus Rock. There she unfortunately has 2 horrifying miscarriages. Shortly after a miscarriage a boat washes up on shore with a dead man and a crying baby. Isabel quickly sees this as a gift from God and keeps the baby as her own. From this moment, both Tom and Isabel have to sacrifice part of their rationality and ethics to maintain the facade that they build. While I never question the love they have for their “daughter”, I have a hard time with the blame and rationalization that happens.

This was a divisive book for my book club, with several woman understanding how the pain and isolation that Isabel went through made her behavior understandable. While others, myself included, could not understand how Isabel could keep up her mothering while hearing about the heartache it caused. Many of the characters in the story also encountered the same dilemma. Maybe that should have made this an interesting read, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the book while I was in the middle of it. Isabel’s behavior bothered me too much and I couldn’t believe that anyone would allow this story to happen.

Read September 2014

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The South

Colm Toibin’s The South is about Katherine Proctor, a woman who is coming into her own in the 1950’s. She abandons her husband and child after she learns the type of man she married and thinks her son is just a miniature version of him. She leaves Ireland and heads to Barcelona to begin her new life. She came from a wealthy Protestant family and her mother supported her while she led an artistic life in the Pyrenees with her Spanish revolutionary lover

Throughout the story Katherine isolates herself from everyone, even when she’s in a relationship or with friends. She always keeps her distance and surrounds herself with men who do the same thing. Toibin writes her as such a sad and discontent character. She has immense control over her life, especially for the time period, but doesn’t take control of her own happiness.

Toibin is economical with words, but doesn’t hold back with emotions. There is so much depth to the emotions, specifically with Katherine and her children, that I needed to take a break while reading this book to prevent the sadness from overwhelming me. Maybe its because I have children, or the style allows the reader to put their own emotions onto the characters since nothing is spelled out, but the emotions that ran beyond the words was so powerful.

This book was a great story about a woman trying to live her life freely but being stifled by her isolation. Colm Toibin is a great writer and this is a wonderful example.

Read May 2013