Story in Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Story in Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman | Inkwells & Images

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman takes place on a lonely island of rock situated at the tip of Australia. A lighthouse and its keeper, placed far away from all civilization, ensure that ships don’t take shortcuts and run aground on the shoals. The lightkeeper is named Tom, and he’s just returned from four years in the service, fighting WWI back in England and on the continent. He likes the solitude, the routine of this job. When he unexpectedly falls in love with a girl in the next town – one willing to life the life of a lightkeeper’s wife – it’s his own little miracle.

Tom and Isabel settle into married life out on Janus Rock. Tom hoping to put lost years behind him and build something new, Isabel ready to start her own family after seeing years of loss: brothers not coming home, families in her community torn apart by a war taking place thousands of miles away. After a third heartbreaking miscarriage all alone out on the island, Tom and Isabel believe their changes of a family are waning thin – until a little infant washes ashore in a boat.

Their story expands and twists and begins to involve new characters from the moment Lucy enters their lives. The novel tackles some interesting topics: How does a man recover from the war he has seen? What makes a woman a mother? What kind of loss is too much to handle for a frail human spirit? And what is the cost of the truth?

Favorite Quotes:

(apologies for a lack of page numbers – read on Kindle)

“From this side of the island, there was only vastness, all the way to Africa.”

“You could still tell at a glance who’d been over there and who’d sat the war out at home. You could smell it on a man.”

“So many men who had dodged death over there now seemed addicted to its lure.”

“Nineteen fourteen was just flags and new-smelling leather on uniforms. It wasn’t until a year later that life started to feel different—started to feel as if maybe this wasn’t a sideshow after all—when, instead of getting back their precious, strapping husbands and sons, the women began to get telegrams.”

“‘She’s a beauty all right,’ said Tom, taking in the giant lens, far taller than himself, atop the rotating pedestal: a palace of prisms like a beehive made from glass. It was the very heart of Janus, all light and clarity and silence.”

“It seemed his lungs could never be large enough to breathe in this much air, his eyes could never see this much space, nor could he hear the full extent of the rolling, roaring ocean. For the briefest moment, he had no edges.”

“He knows keepers who swear under their breath at the obligation, but Tom takes comfort from the orderliness of it. It is a luxury to do something that serves no practical purpose: the luxury of civilization.”

“Other blokes might take advantage, but to Tom, the idea of honor was a kind of antidote to some of the things he’d lived through.”

” ‘Just—well, don’t get confused between a thing itself and the first time you come across it. Think it over.’ ”

“To bear witness to the death, without being broken by the weight of it.”

“It put things into perspective—the stars had been around since before there were people. They just kept shining, no matter what was going on.”

“There had been nothing to wait for before—Tom had grown so used to greeting the days as ends in themselves.”

“You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery, between man and monsters. The rules that said you took a prisoner rather than killed a man.”

“Lucy grew. The light turned. Time passed.”

“Many a woman had received the meager collection of things which constituted her son’s life.”

“She knew that if a wife lost a husband, there was a whole new word to describe who she was: she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief.”

“The quickest way to send a bloke mad is to let him go on re-fighting his war till he gets it right.”

” ‘I’ve learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you’ve got to give up hope of ever changing your past.’ ”

“His other half of the sky.”

“He’s lived the life he’s lived. He’s loved the woman he’s loved. No one ever has or ever will travel quite the same path on this earth, and that’s all right by him.”

“Scars are just another kind of memory.”

What made this a good story?

Stedman writes with a delicate, rolling pen: her words echo the waves that wash up on the Janus shore, calculated, rhythmic, tantalizingly lovely. The characters feel real, jumping off the page in the first moments, not needing time to develop. The plot? Memorable. Wholly engaging and pulls you along until the last page.

What could have made it a better story?

Later on in the novel, I feel as if the cast of characters expands too much, too quickly. We go from three main characters plus four or five auxiliary ones to dozens all moving and all with separate agendas. The novel goes from a lovely, muted pastoral to almost a procedural when the law becomes involved, and it didn’t feel like the pieces joined together well. Still, throughout the whole novel the character of Tom remains clear, crisp, and utterly readable.

Have you read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman? Is it on your list?

P.S. If you like this book, you’ll probably love All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Story in Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling | Inkwells & Images

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling is a little book created from a big speech: Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University (you can read the speech on Harvard’s site here, and watch the video of the speech here).

As with all things written by J.K. Rowling, the speech is full of nuggets of wisdom and altogether lovely sentences. And in the book, these words of wisdom are set into sophisticated moments of design.
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling | Inkwells & Images

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling | Inkwells & Images

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling | Inkwells & Images

If you at all like a well-designed book, do pick this one up. And if you at all like Harry Potter, these words from the famous author are on-par with the ones that live inside the magical world of Hogwarts, full of nuggets of truth and encouragement along the way for anyone who might need a pep talk at any point in life, be it graduation, the loss of a job, or a decision to turn in a new direction.

In Rowling’s own words:

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Have you read Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling? If so, what did you think? And are you as big of a Harry Pottery fan as I?

When Readers Listen: Outrage Culture

When Readers Listen | Inkwells & Images

Last month in the first blog of this new series, I confessed that I was not a podcast listener. I had tried to listen to them in the past and it just didn’t work for me.

Now? A month later, I am a podcast listener. I’m pretty sure it’s entirely because of the Greenlight Bookstore Radio Hour (their interview with Elizabeth Gilbert may be one of my favorite things on the planet these days).

So, I was really looking forward to our next installment of the When Readers Listen podcast series.

And I was a little disappointed.

The Longform Podcast episode #148 is an interview with Anna Holmes, the founding editor of Jezebel. Holmes currently writes for The New York Times and is the editorial director of Fusion. This episode was title “Outrage Culture” and I was hoping for a discussion about just that: the odd, sometimes justified-sometimes not outrage culture in which we live.

And they only talked about that for maybe seven minute at the very end of the episode.

I love hearing about Jezebel’s first days and the ways in which the site challenged old media outlets to change the way they discussed mainstream topics, but I feel like the title of the episode was completely misleading. It wasn’t an episode about outrage culture: it was an episode about Jezebel, the career of Anna Holmes, with a little dash of outrage culture thrown in.

That said, there were still some good quotable from this episode, especially concerning the section actually about outrage culture:

“[outrage culture] wasn’t as pronounced when I [Holmes] was around … I think that Jezebel contributed to what I now call ‘outrage culture,’ but outrage culture has no sense of humor. We had a hell of a sense of humor, that’s where it splits off. … The fact that people who are incredibly intelligent and have interesting things to say aren’t given the room to work out their arguments or thoughts because someone will take offense is depressing to me.”

One thing that Holmes does mention is that in 2008 when she was running Jezebel, there were never any threats directed at her because she was a woman – not like there is now with things like Gamergate. When asked by host Aaron Lammer why she thought this was, her initial answer was “I don’t know.” She then went on to say that it was because gender issues and gender politics weren’t a mainstream idea, and that once they became mainstream, men were having to deal with them and they didn’t want to – so they went on the offensive as opposed to just ignoring it as had been the case.

It was an interesting concept to me: I’d not thought about these sort of attacks as being purely because the issues were out in the open more than before. I just hadn’t considered it.

And now I am.

It might take a while for me to digest this, to really mull it over and decide what I think about, but the podcast was worth listening to for that one thought-provoking nugget, if nothing else.

And that was the extent that outrage culture was discussed in a podcast titled “Outrage Culture.”

It was such a brief time period that I didn’t even have notes to show you like last time.

And just like last time, I’m listening and writing alongside Callie Feyen. I’m curious to read what she has to say about the differences between the title and the content, and if there even was a break in there for her – or whether or not it mattered to her! Maybe I’m just stuck on something miniscule. :)

What’s your favorite podcast that you’ve been listening to lately? Should I give it a go?