Monday, May 22, 2017

The Light Between Oceans

Book: The Light Between Oceans
Basic Information : Synopsis : Characters : Thoughts : Evaluation : New Words : Book References : Good Quotes : References

Basic Information:
 Author: M.L. Stedman
Edition: eBook from the Fresno County Library
Read:May 22, 2017
422 pages
Genre:   Fiction
Rated:   out of 5

Synopsis (Caution: Spoiler Alert-Jump to Thoughts):
After World War I, Tom wants to retreat into places he cannot hurt anyone. A lighthouse keeper seems the perfect place. But on the way to the made-up island of Janus Rock he meets Isabel and gets married.

From Janice Heck's blog
Then a baby and body drift to the shore of this lighthouse keeper and his wife. They had just experienced their third child who was either stillborn and miscarried and the wife sees this as a sign that God has answered their prayers. The source of a conflict in the book is that the lighthouse keeper is required to record each incident and in a case as this, to inform his superiors. He does neither out of difference to his wife.

When they return to town after a year, they found out that the body belonged to the husband of a local woman and the baby is his wife’s. Tom starts to feel guilty and leaves notes for the baby’s mother. This is his undoing.A second time, three years later he leaves another note and a silver baby rattle. One of the people who come to Janus Rock sees a picture of the rattle and says he sees it out on Janus Rock. Police come out and arrest Tom and take away Lucy and restores her to her mother.

Isabel blames Tom for losing her “daughter” and Tom is taking the blame. But the added complication is, did Tom kill Hannah’s husband?  After a series of people talk to Isabel and Hannah charges are reduced and Isabel and Tom are reconciled with the provision both need to stay away from Lucy. The end of the book has Isabel dying about 25 years later. Then a few days later, Lucy finds Tom.

Cast of Characters:
Isabel Graysmark: A local girl who becomes infatuated with Tom Sherbourne and they marry. She has three miscarriages and feels whole when a baby drifts on shore. She takes it as her own, even though Tom Sherbourne objects. Later when the child is discovered to be another woman’s, she turns on her husband.

Tom Sherbourne: World War I survivor, with some psychological scars. But no physical harm. To get away from the memories, his solution is to do good, to save people by becoming a lighthouse keeper. When he comes for a temporary job at Janus Rock, a fictional place, he meets Isabel Graysmark and they fall in love. He has a sense of high morality and honor.

Lucy-Grace: Child found adrift which turns out to be Hannah’s.

Hannah Roennfedt (Pots): Birth mom to Grace/Lucy. Emotionally unstable after loss of husband and child. Possessive when Grace/Lucy is found.

Ralph Hasluck: Captain of the boat which supplies Janus Rock. Possess wisdom of people and things.

Bluey (Smart): First mate of the boat and the one who eventually links a piece of evidence with Janus Rock.

Septimus Potts: Originally did not approve of Hannah’s marriage to a Austrian, but when a child comes  along, he accepts both.  After Grace comes back, he is the one who has the understanding of what it means to lose someone and the problems with Grace and Hannah.

  • Why the title of A Light Between Oceans?
    • The lighthouse at Janus Rock, a fictional place, is between the Indian and the Great Southern Ocean
  • Did the ending seem fitting? Satisfying?  Predictable?
    • While the ending is fitting, and somewhat satisfying as it is not grating, it was very predictable after reading the first part of the book..
  • Which character was the most convincing? Least?
    • Which character did you identify with?
      • Tom, Ralph and Septimus
    • Which one did you dislike?
      • Isabel and Hannah
  • In what context was religion talked about in this book?
    • Surprisingly there was much talk and prayer mentioned by almost all of the main characters. I do not know Stedman’s religious background, but it seemed like she at least had her characters calling on God in a lot of settings. Maybe not in an evangelical Christian fashion, but more than just a cursory attempt at pacifying God.

Tom discovers the secret of a smile. It can melt a heart.

Isabel take a map of Janus Rock, which shows the outline of the area. She draws in names of places, such as treacherous Rock, Tranquil Cover and Tom’s Lookout. There is a contrasting outlook of how you look at the world.  Tom looks at places as a unified area. While Isabel sees the individuality of each part. Both views are needed as that we are.  We are to view places, and ourselves, as an individual as well as seeing each part as important.

Good description of how the lens of a lighthouse works (Chp 3).

Tom is someone who takes comfort in orderliness. Such as raising an ensign when a warship passes or noting in the log unusual events.  (Chp 4)

Is there places where underwater fissures bring fresh water to the ocean? (Chp 4)

What you think of your job depends on how you view the task and hardship. In the lighthouse case, Tom realizes that all he has to do to do his job is keep the light burning, nothing more.  The hardships may include storms coming in, hail damaging his garden and the stress leaving him worried. But all he really needs to do is keep the light lite. (chp 4)

I have always felt if a women smiled at you-and I am talking about just a friendly one, not a romantic or intimate one-that it makes her much more attractive. It seems like even when talking about a male, a smile goes a long way in establishing a relationship. (Chp 5)

...the idea of honor was a kind of antidote to some of the things he’d live through. I am not sure it is the idea but the practice of honor helps restore you to how you think about others. The things he lived through is WWI. I think honor goes back to the integrity of one’s life. It reflects the creator which we all came from. When we see honor in action, we respond to it. (Chp 5)

freedom in silence.

When Isabel has a miscarriage, she apologizes to Tom while Tom tries to care to her. Just seems strange that she is apologizing for something which she has no control over. I think this is trying to make up for her loss.

Just like the mercury that made the light go around, Isabel was--mysterious. The author then goes off to try to capture the mystery, but I am not sure that it is not somewhat meaningless.Stedman says Able to cure and to poson; able to bear the whole weight of the light but capable of fracturing into a thousand uncatchable particles. I just do not know what this really means. besides trying to capture that mystery which is Isabel.

Stedman says that Tom finds peace in the orderliness of writing in his log book. He is to write everything. He enjoys that the wind speeds are still measured as they were in the age of sail. I think the scale which he refers to is the Beaufort Scale.  

It is the log book which forms the focal of his anxieties. How does he account for a baby and a dead man without causing his dereliction to be revealed?  He has not told the authorities about either, to hide that his wife wants to keep the baby as their own when their own died. Tom is bound by duty to write this in the log, but he is bound to his wife and her desires in love.

In chp 10 when Tom and Isabel have suffered their second loss, Tom gets a sense of contrasts: vastness, the tiny body, eternity and the clock… This is a theme in Stedman’s book. Later on in chp 18,  Stedman talks about the vastness of both the oceans around Tom and the time it took to reach the point to which all we see. Tom feels that this is in contrast to Lucy who represents the now.  Keeping both in balance is unnerving to Tom.

This is one of Stedman’s more pungent statements. It is written after finding the baby adrift. Tom wants to go by the rules, Isabel wants to keep it for themselves. the man who continued to do his duty, who comforted her as best he could, but kept his own grieving to himself. The strong man who has no outlet for his own grief, his own desires, his own thoughts. (Chp 10)

You could kill a bloke with rules...sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery… This is the question which should be asked anytime a person decides to break rules, whether it is the law or custom. If this rule was to be broken, does it advance us as peoples? Is it because a greater good will happen? Is this a one-off anomaly? Or is this just for my convenience? We can see this in the plot to kill Hitler-how many lives would that have saved? (Chp 11)

Somethings can bring pain, some happiness. Tom’s letter to Hannah brought news that her husband was dead, but her baby was alive. (Chp 17) Not the wisest letter to have written.

The Lie-whose baby is Lucy--is causing Tom and Isabel to edge apart. Tom is not comfortable with it. It causes him to ponder many things. This is true of all lies, even those which are not discovered. There is a good reason the Bible calls Satan the father of lies. There is a phrase which Stedman uses, isolation lulls him [Tom] with the music of the lie. There is a kind of mellowness to a good lie, unlike the jaggedness of truth. Still in the long run, a lie degrades and truth builds up.(Chp 18)  A few pages later, Lucy comes in a tells a lie. But Isabel says Lucy and Isabel need to have a talk about telling the truth.  How can Isabel tell her daughter to tell the truth when she lies.

Tom is someone who is content with what he has. So Isabel has a task to buy a birthday present. He is happy with whatever he gets, but does not need anything. (Chp 18)

Tom talks about his rationale for going away and living in a lighthouse instead of a “normal” life. It is due to all the things he has seen and did. He did not want to inflict anymore harm on anybody else and now realizes he is doing it to Lucy’s real mother, Hannah. (chp 22)

As Tom searches out how could he have done things differently, he thinks of the boat captain's words,(no point in fighting your war over and over until you get it right. (Chp 28)

Stedman makes a good statement, If Tom is to take his leave of the world, he wants to remember the beauty i it, not just the suffering. But then  Stedman throughs something in which I am sure sounded good, but which sounds a bit lame: The breaths of Lucy who trusted two strangers, bonding with their hearts like a molecule. (Chp 33) The first touches me because of what Tom has suffered and how he has lived.  The second gets me into things like who is the electron? The protein? What chemicals are involved.  Maybe to someone who has not taken high school chemistry this would have been good, but it struck me as being a bit artificial. This is not the only place. When Isabel is dying of cancer, Stedman says: Years bleach away the sense of things. This is good. Then Stedman adds until that’s left is a bone-white past stripped of feeling and significance. (Chp 37) The first statement gives you the vision of driftwood on a beach, just weathering until nothing is left. What does the second part give me? Is it because I do not have the insight to understand the first part? This just did not work for me.

In the boat captain’s mouth Stedman puts these lines: There’s been lie upon lie, all with the best intentions. But it's gone far enough. Everything you’ve done to help Lucy has hurt someone else. With lies they will hurt someone, maybe not now, but eventually. That is the root of this story. The lie, in this case not reporting a truth and then telling lies to cover, hurt all the characters in this book. (Chp 34)

Probably the wisest person in the whole book is Hannah’s father or husband. Both had learned how to change their attitude to people. In this case, it is Hannah’s husband who said: You have only to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. (Chp 35) If nothing else, for this line, it is worth reading the book.

How different so many lives would have been if he had lived [Tom and Isabel’s still born son]. ..No point in thinking like that. Once you start down that road, there’s no end to it. He’s lived the life he lived. … No one ever has or ever will travel quite the same path on this earth  (Chp 37) True enough. You can only remember, no change what has happened. Even if you could change, would things have turned out better?

Religious Expressions:
  1. Right from the starting page, Isabel is saying the Lord’s Prayer.  This is when she hears, but does not respond to a drifting baby in a boat which seems to be the answer of her heart’s desire.
  2. When a baby unexpectedly arrives with a dead man in it, Stedman describes looking into the baby eyes was like looking at the face of God. What does Stedman mean by this?  In the Jewish and Christian tradition, God’s face is not to be looked at or you will die. Exodus 33:20  20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Is Stedman’s line a throwaway, meant to impress?  Or does he mean that Isabel and Tom will die to looking at it? Or something else? Stedman then goes on and says that No mask or pretense: the baby’s defenselessness was overwhelming. From this, I think Stedman does not mean anything religious, but more having no pretense.
  3. When there second is stillborn, Tom says a prayer.
  4. With the baby’s arrival, Tom says a prayer for it. No contents of the prayer is mentioned. (Chp 10)
  5. And as he buries the dead man, he asks for forgiveness for himself and his wife. Ending with have mercy. (Chp 11)
  6. Stedman points out that just because it appears there may be an answer to prayer, it does not mean that this is God’s answer. (Chp 12)
  7. They had the baby christened. (chp 15)
  8. Oh well, God comes good in the end, doesn’t he? … Does he, Ralph? He can’t come good for everyone, can he?  Tom’s guilt weighs on him. He does not get over the happenstance the baby came into his life. How unfair it was to Hannah, and how Isabel was blessed, even if it was by deceitful means.
  9. After a trip to the mainland, Isabel prays to God for strength, but also acknowledgement that she did not know His mystery. She also prayed for the real mother. (Chp 16)
  10. The original christening ceremony brings together Hannah’s father to Hannah. Hannah’s husband says God makes everything work in his own time. (Chp 17)
  11. Isabel seems to have forsaken her religion. Now she seeks solace in the graveyard of her children. It is there she prays for guidance and strength and wisdom to be a good mother. You wonder as her lie grows, she wanders further from God. (Chp 18)
  12. In a moment, Isabel imagines her handing Lucy over to Hannah, the real mother. But then she questions herself about is this really what God meant to happen when Lucy was introduced into their lives? But this seems a bit later in the conversation. When the baby was first received, if she had tried to find the proper mother rather than a rational that the mother must have died, then this would have been more plausible. What Isabel may have asked herself, if she was truly invoking God, is my time with Lucy at its end? Now that I know the true mother, should I give her back. Selfishness is almost always on the wrong side. (Chp 21)
  13. The pastor tells Hannah to look for Christ in the life around her. While this is probably true, it is not the right time for this to be effective. The pastor should be trying to heal her spirit rather than getting her productive. I wonder how Jesus would have talked with her? (Chp 23)
  14. One of those questions, God, why do you make me live when my children die? (Chp 26) Isabel after the loss of a child.
  15. In jail, Tom prays for Lucy’s and Isabel’s safe keeping. (Chp 28)
  16. Hannah reaches out to God , hoping to be free from resentment. Thinking about how she has been blessed and then drawn back in my memories of hurt. (Chp 29)
  17. When Grace (Lucy) goes lost, Hannah makes a pact with God. It is never revealed what the pact is. The conjecture is that Hannah would give back Grace (Lucy) to Isabel on the condition that Isabel never had anything to do with Grace’s abduction. (chp 33)At the last, Isabel wonders if God forgave her. Tom affirms that He has, it is time to forgive herself. I sometimes think that God will be the first in line to forgive us, it is we who refuses to forgive our past actions. (Chp 37)

 This is not a bad summer read. It is divided into three parts-the author labels it only as Part I, II, and II. My personal labeling is The Lighthouse Keeper, Road to Discovery, and Reconciliation.

Part I does a good job with description and setup of the tension with being so isolated for months at a time It definitely is the most enjoyable reading. Stedman descriptions gets you into an understanding of being out on Janus Rock. But then the next two parts are a let down. The tension she builds in the first part is quickly relieved in the two succeeding parts. Also the quality of writing tended to be uneven.

By this I mean there were times she would make a statement which touched me, such as in chapter 33: If Tom is to take his leave of the world, he wants to remember the beauty in it, not just the suffering. But then  Stedman throughs something in which I am sure sounded good, but which to me is a bit lame sounding: The breaths of Lucy who trusted two strangers, bonding with their hearts like a molecule. These two statements were contained in the same paragraph. There were many other pairs like this.

Then you throw in that after Part I is concluded you know how the rest of the book will end. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if the writing is top-notch. Stedman writes well, but not well enough to make it a must read. More like an enjoyable read from the library rather than a book to buy.

But, there is another facet to this book, if you read it as a morality play, you can learn a lot. Such as lying will catch you in the end. There is a price for being honorable, but it will be worth it.


New Words:
  • corkscrew curls (Chp 3): refers to hair
  • nous (Chp 3):  common sense; practical intelligence.
  • chook (chp 4): Austrialian and New Zealand word ofr chicken
  • Vincent Powder (Chp 9): a painkiller
  • Anzac Day (Chp 10): a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served"
  • factotum (Chp 18):  an employee who does all kinds of work.
  • stephanotis (Chp 23):  The name derives from the Greek stephanōtís (feminine adj.) fit for a crown, derivative of stéphanos (masculine) crown. It contains evergreen, woody-stemmed lianas with a scattered distribution in several tropical and subtropical regions.
  • petral (Chp 24): tube-nosed seabirds, The word petrel comes from the Latin name for the Christian Saint Peter, and refers to the habits of certain species to hover just above the ocean waves, with their feet barely touching the water, thus giving an appearance of walking on water,
  • tearaways (Chp 35):a person who behaves in a wild or reckless manner.
  • dobber (Chp 28): One who dobs (informs against or implicates to authority).
Book References:
  • Das Stunden Buch by Rainer Maria Rilke

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.
  • Last Line: He watches the ocean surrender to night, knowing that the light will reappear.
  • A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it. (Chp 20)
  • We live with the decision we make. That’s what bravery is. Standing by the consequences of your mistake. (Chp 28)
  • When it comes to their kids, parents are all just instinct and hope. And fear. (Chp 30)
  • You have only to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. (Chp 35)


    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    Book Group Reads: 2017-2018

    Book Group Reads: 2017-2018

    Month Book Author Pages EBook Fresno Library
    June 2017 The Light Between Oceans RL Stedman 343 Kindle
    All Formats
    July 2017 A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley Neal Thompson 421 Kindle
    August 2017 The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu  Joshua Hammer 280 Kindle
    All Formats
    September 2017 Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads  Paul Theroux 441 Kindle
    October 2017 Hidden Figures   Margot Lee Shetterly 349 Kindle
    All Formats
    November 2017 Dr Fiala from CSU, Fresno as possible author. What Would Jesus Really Do?

    December 2017 Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy   Ann Lamott 192 Kindle
    January 2018 Man Called Ove  Fredrik Backman 337 Kindle
    All Formats
    February 2018 The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism  Doris Kearns Goodwin 910 Kindle
    All Formats
    March 2018 The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend  Katarina Bivald 394 Kindle
    April 2018 Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner 569 Kindle
    May 2018 How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture Francis Shaeffer 288 Kindle
    June 2018 TBA

    July 2018 The Last Season Eric Blehm  384 Kindle
    August 2018 The Silver Chair  CS Lewis 243 Kindle
    All Formats
    September 2018 Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness  Eric Metaxas 256 Kindle