Book Club: The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

Henpicked’s book of the month for November 2016

We had a fabulous month of reading and discussing The Girl on the Train last month. A huge thank you to our book champions and to all the Henpicked community for their comments and input. If you have any further thoughts please drop them into Disqus at the bottom of the article.

We’re really excited to announce that The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman will be our book of the month for November. It’s a New York Times bestseller, has fabulous reviews and is a tender love story with a difference. Here’s a couple of its reviews:

‘Extraordinary and heartrending’ MARKUS ZUSAK, author of The Book Thief’.

A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision. They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.’ New York Times

Unforgettable‘ Guardian

Lots to talk about! Like Girl on the Train, the film is due out next month too. But let’s read the book first.

We’re looking for book champions so if you would like to volunteer, please let us know. We give each of our champions a FREE copy of the book of the month and once you’ve read it, we’d love to hear your views!

Just like last month, we’ll let our book club subscribers have some key points about the book to think about throughout the month and in the meantime, please do get reading!

Feel free to jump into the discussion about the book at any time during the month using Disqus which is ready and waiting for you and shows up at the bottom of this page – it’s free to sign up and once you are logged in, you can comment on any of the articles on the Henpicked website.

This month’s other book suggestions

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions for our book of the month. We had a good selection of books and these included Elizabeth is Missing by Emma HealeyVinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare) by Anne TylerA Spool of Blue Thread also by Anne TylerThe Children Act by Ian McEwan

Last month’s book suggestions

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Us by David Nicholls. It wasn’t easy to make a choice! Do please keep the recommendations coming.

Please share news of our book club with your friends and encourage them to sign up and join our book club. You don’t need to be a member to comment but signing up will ensure that you receive our regular newsletters so that we can keep you updated with events.

We welcome you all and remember there is no right or wrong with reading – everyone’s opinion counts. Happy reading during November!

Henpicked

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From the Henpicked team!

  • Deborah Garlick

    So many great reviews on this book. Really looking forward to receiving my book tomorrow!

  • Diana Woodhead

    Looking forward to reading this book

    • Deborah

      Have you read it yet Diana?

  • Fiona Theokritoff

    I’m new to Henpicked but I just happened to have read this book last week. I want to share my thoughts as I enjoyed it so much.
    It was very highly recommended to me by a friend – and I can see why. In lots of ways it’s an old fashioned love story – but there is so much more to it than that. The action all takes place against a background of a small (and a VERY small) community a few years after the First World War, and how the harvest of that conflict continued to affect people’s lives.
    It’s fundamentally a book about the bond between mothers and children – what mothering means, and the different shapes it takes. And how we live with the consequences of our actions – big stuff!
    I found the early part of the book captivating – straightforward but heartfelt language and you are carried through a love story. But life gets much tougher … and I found the section in the middle of the book quite hard when the action had ground to a halt a bit (I don’t want to give away what is happening!).It’s necessary, that frustration, because it helps you experience that long drawn out time when everyone is weighing up what to do, what action to take, a sense that everything has just got to play out as it will. And life was slower, communications slower too.
    The tension over how the situation is resolved is well handled, although ultimately it may feel a little too stark for some. But decisions are made, and life goes on. The ending of the book however had me crying like a baby – the author writes a coda which spins us forward over 20 years to another resolution.
    Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend as we sat on the seashore in Cornwall. She said ‘The trouble with the sea is that it separates us from each other’. And I said ‘Oh no that’s not how I see it at all – the sea is what connects us with everyone round the world’. If you think of the sea as a connector and not a separator, I reckon you will love this book and all the stories it holds.

    • Deborah Garlick

      Thank you Fiona, just getting into the book and gripped already. Told to turn the light off several times last night and kept in on until the end of the next page.
      Interesting observations (without spoilers) – will share my view very soon!

  • Angela

    Finished reading in the early hours as I couldn’t leave it alone not knowing what would happen to Tom & Isabel, a heartbreakingly good read. The characters were brought to life at a steady pace throughout & I could easily imagine each person & feel their sorrow as if it was my own. The desperate clinging to a wrong choice that felt so right to them was a brilliant storyline. Descriptions of the island & the small community in Partageuse only added to the enjoyment of reading this excellent book. One to be passed on to my other avid book friends

  • Penny Black

    As a new book champion, please excuse my first review. Sure I will become more eloquent with time, just been a while since I wrote a review back in my schooldays.
    The writing is so descriptive that you can imagine yourself there. The unravelling of the consequences from that one decision taken by the couple really kept me glued to the book. (I finished it in two days)
    The torment of Tom trying desperately to give Isabel everything she needed to keep her happy but wrestling with his conscience all the time is so credible and Isabel’s previous heartache totally clouds her judgement but as you read the story you can’t help but feel empathy towards her.
    I really enjoyed this book especially the descriptive writing and the storyline dipping back into the past to give you more of an insight to the characters.

    • Deborah Garlick

      Thank you Penny – it is absolutely gripping and my heart was pounding last night. I’m actually trying to get to bed earlier and earlier at night just to find out what happens. Thank you for your review!!

  • Fleur Lloyd

    Just like Penny, a complete newbie to book reviewing, and I am gripped by this book already. Frustrated that my daily life is getting in the way of reading. On chapter 10 now, and don’t want to put it down.

  • Marion

    Oh my word – this book is amazing. The atmosphere was what grabbed me first – I was there, I was a light house keeper, isolated but not forlorn. At one with nature and the sea, free of self pity but bound by necessary rules. The simplicity of their love was abundant but the complexity of their suffering as the miscarriages occurred was profound. So little was said but so much was felt. The arrival of the boat was wholly plausible and their decision making was fascinating. I am a pretty decisive person – but this had me cast adrift. One page I agreed with Tom and the next I was as one with Isabel. What would I have done? I listened to this book in the audio version and couldn’t bear to take my headphones out – scared that they would make a decision without me. The anguish was tangible and the horror, quietly stated, was so powerful. There was no right decision and we are in no position to judge. The characters were so real, I could smell them. This was an ethical dilemma that defied a solution, the pain was visceral. Get a copy, and immerse yourself in one of the best books I have read for a long time

  • Deborah

    Well I don’t know where to start. That was the fastest I’ve read a book in a very long time and it gripped me from the start. Had to stay up until 1am this morning to finish it. Yes there were the decisions and I had no idea how it was all going to play out or for that matter who’d started the threads unpicking…. Then I was surprised or was I? Reflecting on how a person’s values are shaped by their experiences, Tom’s drive to do the right thing was shaped by the snippets of his early life and stayed strong, even through his war experiences. The emotional side for them both when Izzy after the doctor’s verdict (that’s so young – no spoilers).

    I simply loved the characters from beginning to end, the wonderful storyline and the way I felt like I was actually watching it, the storytelling is so vivid.

    And now I can go to see the movie – hope it does the book justice!

  • Awarby

    Well what a great read! The scene setting was so detailed and descriptive that you felt that you were there in the lighthouse. The dilemmas faced by the characters were emotionally draining! One moment I was in full sympathy with Isabel and then along came Hannah and suddenly I was willing her on. Throughout it all was strong silent Tom who was the lynchpin of the whole story, honest and noble to the end. This was an amazing story different from anything that I have read before. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  • Linda Wilcox

    Loved this book, it really draws you in and descriptions that portray the isolation from community are brilliant. Would we make different decisions if we weren’t exposed to other people’s views and standards? Looking forward to seeing the film.

  • Fleur Lloyd

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Tom returns from the war seeking isolation as he battles with an internal struggle against the guilt he feels for surviving the war, coming home unscathed, but he doesn’t factor in meeting the young Isabel who, with her carefree spirit, makes him think he could have a fulfilled life again. Whilst the lighthouse provides sanctuary for Tom, it sows the seeds of isolation for Isabel as she suffers one loss after another. Throughout the book, I felt deep sympathy for Tom as his battles continued between his own conscience and the love of his wife, whilst at the same time, I could sympathise entirely with Isabel’s desire for the one thing that kept eluding her. The island they inhabited provided them with a snow globe like existence, they lived on untouched by the outside, until Tom’s conscience caused the glass to break. I was so torn between the characters, one scene in particular had me in tears and I didn’t foresee the ending… Loved it.

    • Deborah

      Fab review Fleur, thank you! So pleased you liked it. Going to see the film when it’s out?

  • Kay Garrett

    SPOILERS: but hopefully everyone has read it by now!

    After a slow start this book picked up the pace and some hard-hitting subjects came to the fore – grief, childlessness, war, prejudice, madness. To me it was primarily a book about guilt: Tom’s for cheating death in the war, Izzy for not being able to carry a child, Hannah for sending Frank and Grace off, Septimus for his treatment of Hannah, Bluey for his decision. Then the big guilt of Tom and Izzy – both for what they did and what followed. It dealt very well with the madness of grief and the impact of isolation. It certainly made me hug my own children a little closer. I liked the concept that doing the right thing in the eyes of the law wasn’t necessarily the right thing for anyone concerned. But I didn’t find Tom and Izzy sympathetic or likeable characters, unlike Hannah. The light from a lighthouse signals danger to all who see it – but those within the lighthouse don’t see it. I thought this was a clever device – that looking externally and internally present two different views.

    • Deborah

      Actually didn’t appreciate that as a device. Very clever indeed!

  • Alison Lobban

    I finished reading this book quite a few days ago now but the effects are still with me.I still think ‘how would I have acted in that position? Would I have done the same?’ Those questions are relevant to all the characters and to say you are drawn into them all is putting it mildly! The story is based at a time in history where people struggled with most things- and all the characters have had more than their fair share of struggles and pain- many still trying to cope with’everyday life’. The book is very well written,descriptive and at times painfully heartfelt. The reader is swept into every emotion and left at times wondering if they too are part of the small town community. I would definitely recommend reading this book- I only hope the pending film does it justice.

    • Deborah

      Me too Alison. The first thing I did when I finished was good when it’s out. The book was so vivid and I actually felt like I was reading it while I was reading. Let you know when I’ve been or share your thoughts if you see if first!

  • I missed this book – only joined recently – but wondering if anyone has recommendations for the next one? I’m really looking forward to being part of the book club as I’m a lapsed, previously very avid reader (if that makes sense)!

    • Deborah

      Absolutely loved this book Jane, worth reading even if it’s one you save for later. The only disappointment was when I finished it. Just wanted to keep reading!

  • Diana Woodhead

    I absolutely loved this book. I cried in numerous places which is unusual for me. The characterisations were spot on. I loved the setting which was really unusual and made the plot plausible as it would not be in another setting, very moving and would highly recommend

  • Tracy Wood

    I have to admit to a total fail his month. We had a holiday and a family emergency plus some diy and no reading was done. Next month’s book is downloaded however, and I will come back to this month’s offering and read it as well.

  • Imogen Jamieson

    I have hesitated to post my review of this book as I didn’t really enjoy it and so I am completely bucking the trend as everyone else did! I have been trying to put my finger on what I didn’t like about as on face value, it is a book that I would have expected to love! The main themes couldn’t be more emotive and I am always interested in people and their lives (and the decisions they make) so why did it jar for me……? I think it was three things – firstly the writers style which just didn’t sing for me, secondly, I thought it was too long and so found it a bit laboured at times and thirdly, it is so depressing. Sad I can deal with (and I love a good weep) but I just felt that there was a lack of hope.