I’d never really heard anything about The Light Between Oceans until the film was released not too long ago. Whilst I was not massively keen on the film, I did think that the acting by the main cast members was excellent, especially when the scenes were emotionally demanding. Feeling motivated by this, I really wanted to pick up the original novel by M L Stedman, hoping that the superb acting from the film had stemmed from something even more moving in the book.
For anyone who may not know, The Light Between Oceans, set in Australia, follows Tom Sherbourne. After serving in the war, Tom is somewhat disconnected with life, signing up to look after and manage lighthouses for months, even years, at a time. After meeting his wife, Isabel, the pair start their new life together on Janus, a particularly isolated lighthouse, far away from other people and the normality of society. Yet, after a boat washes up on shore, holding a dead man and a crying baby, the couple must make a decision, and live with the consequences from then on.
In many ways, this book is extremely plot driven, with the author knowing where she wants to take the story and the novel itself following her to the mark. Time passes rather quickly throughout, and you always have the sense of something waiting to happen, something looming in the mist ahead which will cause inevitable destruction. Likewise, the book is a very quick read because of the author’s writing style. The writing is very simple, and so easy to follow. Although I am a fan of literary fiction and classics, I do not mind this approach if done well. However, I did not find this here. I found many of the author’s descriptions and literary devices to be extremely basic. For example, at one point she states how the ‘sound of their footsteps ricocheted like/ stray bullets’ (pp. 49/50), or how the lighthouse ‘rested against the slate sky like a stick of chalk’ (p. 49). As you can see from these two similes, the descriptions are very simplistic, and I felt that they lacked imagination, with a few pages often being filled with similar examples.
Following on from this, I have to admit that I left this book feeling very disappointed. In theory, I think the idea behind the plot is really good, leaving plenty of opportunities to really showcase sensational writing. Sadly, I do not think that it was executed to the full potential. I felt that in many cases the author glides over moments which could have been explored so much further. Whereas the actors in the film were really able to convey the passion, the devastation, the pain they were feeling, here the author has the added benefit of words and I still felt no way attached to the characters. I think it is the idea if what is happening that may explain why some readers feel involved, as opposed to the actual execution or the writing by itself. Even the descriptions of the extreme isolation of Janus left me feeling underwhelmed.
This was a recurring theme throughout the book, one which could have become complex and very interesting, yet one reduced to a very surface level appearance. For instance, something which really bothered me was the fact that the omniscient narrator continually tells us how Tom is traumatised in different ways from his experiences of the war, yet we never really experience this, or even delver further into it. Rather than allow the characters to develop, and so let the readers become involved, the author has a tendency to tell us Tom feels a certain way without really justifying this. I felt really distanced from the characters, and I really missed that emotional connection which I felt could have been implemented with greater skill.
I did not hate or despite this book, but neither did I like or enjoy it. The word which most accurately describes my reading experience is without a doubt disappointed. I feel so saddened by the fact that the plot of this book held so much potential, and I could really see it working if it were more sophisticated or tuned to a finer degree. The plot is so emotionally charged and presents a very raw insight into the human mind and emotions, yet I felt that none of this shone through as it could have done.
Have you read this, or seen the film? What did you think?
Publisher: Black Swan