The Light Between Oceans came out in the movie theaters in the fall and the book was published in 2012, but I just got around to reading the novel and watching the movie. I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie and didn’t have time back in the fall. I had heard that the movie was really sad so that made me hesitant to read the book because I wasn’t really in the mood to read a sad story. But I decided to go ahead and read it.
Let’s start with a brief synopsis. Tom Sherbourne is a World War I veteran who has recently taken on a lighthouse keeper posting on Janus Rock – a remote piece of land hours off the coast of Australia. While briefly in a port town on the mainland he meets a young woman, Isabel, and hits it off with her. After sending each other letters for a while, which can only be delivered to each other every few months when the supply ship comes. They decide, in their letters, to get married because Isabel can only come out to Janus Rock if she’s the lighthouse keeper’s wife. After being married for a little bit, Isabel gets pregnant, but sadly loses the baby. After a few more losses, one day Tom spots a dinghy coming towards them. In the small boat are a dead man and a baby. After so much heartache with trying to have a baby of their own, Isabel really wants to keep the baby to raise as their own. Tom, always a rule follower, is more hesitant, but ultimately decides to go along with his wife’s wishes because she’s been through so much and she makes a good point that they are hours from the mainland and the baby’s father is dead so who would know it wasn’t their baby? Things get tricky when they go back to the mainland for a visit (which only happens every few years) and cross paths with a woman who is most probably the mother.
I liked the book, but didn’t love it. Honestly, I thought it was just okay. I didn’t find any of the characters to be especially sympathetic. In theory, I should feel bad for all of them because they all go through tragedies, but I found it really hard to. I have some strong feelings about what bothered me about the book. Normally, I don’t give spoilers when I do a book review, but since I have such strong feelings I’m going to really delve into this book. So if you don’t want to know any details scroll down to after my spoiler(s) is over.
I mentioned above that I didn’t find myself feeling sympathy for any of the characters. Let me explain why.
- Tom – Sure, Tom is a stand-up guy, but I didn’t feel sorry for him because he made the decision to go along with his wife and raise Lucy as his own child. But 4 years later when he meets Lucy’s biological mother, he becomes overcome with guilt and wants to tell the world the truth and give Lucy back. Okay, it’s admirable that he wanted to do the right thing, but it’s been 4 years. The child only knows Tom and Isabel as her parents – not to mention they live on a piece of land in the middle of the ocean where it’s just the 3 of them. You can’t make a decision – as big of a decision as “stealing” a baby – and then decide to all of a sudden tell the truth! I know in real life, he did the right thing, but this is a book and I feel like he made his decision, I don’t care that you feel guilty – you better stick to that decision!
- Isabel – I felt bad for her that she lost 3 babies and wasn’t able to have any of her own after all of that. Of anyone, I felt the most sympathy for her, but she started to get a little crazy so it was hard to feel bad for her. But in her defense after losing multiple babies and then to have your husband betray you would probably turn me a little nuts too.
- Hannah – I found it hard to feel bad for the biological mother because she seemed much more interested in trying to bring back the memory of her late husband than to have her baby back.
- Tom wrote Hannah two letters to tell her that her baby was safe. To assuage his guilt basically. This was so dumb, in my opinion, and goes back to my rant about him. You made your bed, now lie in it. What good is it to let the mother know that her baby is taken care of and safe? Also how dumb are these people in this small town to not realize that the only time Hannah ever gets these letters is when the lighthouse keeper and his wife, who just happen to have a baby the same age as her missing child, come back to town from the middle of the ocean?! Come on, now!
End of Spoilers!
I watched the movie a few days after finishing the novel and I thought the movie was just okay as well. I do like Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz, but like the novel I thought the movie was just alright due to the story. The movie was a pretty close adaptation, although they change a few minor things. For example, in the novel, Tom had met Hannah briefly before he went to Janus. All the major things were in the movie though, so there was not a big difference between the two.
I did, however, think that the movie made me feel a little more sorry for the characters especially Isabel. Usually books give so much more insight and description of feeling than a movie, but I found the opposite to be true with this story.
Some quotes I liked:
“Just like the mercury that made the light go round, Isabel was – mysterious. Able to cure and to poison; able to bear the whole weight of the light, but capable of fracturing into a thousand uncatchable particles, running off in all directions, escaping from itself.”
“The oceans never stop. They know no beginning or end. The wind never finishes. Sometimes it disappears, but only to gather momentum from somewhere else, returning to fling itself at the island, to make a point which is lost on Tom. Existence here is on a scale of giants. Time is in the millions of years; rocks which from a distance look like dice cast against the shore are boulders hundreds of feet wide, licked round by millennia, tumbled onto their sides so that layers become vertical stripes.”
“Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.”
“There are still more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory.”
Overall, I’m not sorry I read the book or watched the movie, but I was definitely underwhelmed by them and really wished I liked the story and characters more.
Have you read it or watched the movie?