The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
M.L. Stedman

I really wanted to like this book, and on balance it is a good one. But there are some real clanging issues that hold it back.

It is set in the 1920’s at what was then an Australian outpost. For the most part it is written in a modern voice – which I don’t mind, what I do mind is that the author would go from writing a beautiful, descriptive passage (truly mesmerising painting of landscape and characters) then in dialogue the modern voice would continue until for reasons I can’t fathom she seemed to periodically release her inner Steve Irwin. Terms like “doing your ‘nana” or “give it a burl” are certainly colloquialisms of the time, but seemed shoe-horned into the text as a reach for Authenticity.

It’s probably something that wouldn’t be noticed by non-Australians, but adding such terms in the context that they were delivered is akin to writing an American Southern States epic in a modern voice, and then dumping a couple of “y’alls” in as some lame reach for authenticity.Or a Canadian book with some poorly placed “Aboots”

The other clanger, and this one unforgivable, is her switch between past and present tense. While I am aware that this is a technique to create immediacy and drama. It wasn’t well applied.

I’d be there on the island, nothing existed but for the words and the image-scapes, and then the tense would change and I would feel like I’d have to interpret it to past and…. BAM I’m back in my reality holding a book. The Island gone and I am having to think about the context/tense/reasons why she chose to switch.

The colloquialism issue could have been resolved by picking a couple of obvious characters – like the boat guys – and made them as Steve Irwin as she liked… it would have given space and presence to the novel without looking like trying too hard.

The tense issue? Unforgivable.

The premise is a good one, the concepts of moral accountability; the isolation that might make people make decisions that they would not have had they been firmly attached to a community, rather than isolated on a rock and away from prying eyes, makes for some pretty hard questions. 
One of which is how not being accountable to the view of a community could sway a situation.

The technical issues though hold this book back for me, although I can see that the book has already gained a lot of traction so I am likely to be firmly in the minority on this. Nonetheless: even though the premise was immense I can only give it a 3 out of 5… at best.

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