The Light between Oceans

9781742755717

Author: M.L.Stedman

Publisher: Random House

Category: Historical Fiction

368 pp

 

 

The Light between Oceans is M.L. Stedman’s debut novel.

It is 1920, and Tom Sherbourne has been posted as a lighthouse keeper, to Janus Rock – a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. Returning from World War One, Tom is a reserved, almost broken man, but in Point Partegeuse – the closest point of mainland Australia to Janus – he meets the feisty young Isabel Graysmark. They begin to write letters to each other and eventually are married in 1922. Isabel is inquisitive and game for anything:

“Just to be beside her had made him feel cleaner somehow, refreshed. “

Tom on the other hand, has trouble coming to terms with the fact that he survived the war when others didn’t. Isabel brings light and laughter into Tom’s life.

In 1926, a boat appears on the island, carrying a dead man and a baby. Isabel has recently suffered her third miscarriage, and is convinced the arrival of the baby is a sign that she was meant to be a mother after all. She persuades Tom not to report the boat and names the baby Lucy. Isabel blossoms with the baby in her life, but Tom struggles with the decision not to report the boat.

Eventually, things catch up with Tom and Isabel and it is discovered that the baby in fact belongs to Hannah Roennfeldt, who lives in Point Partegeuse. Tom takes all the blame for keeping Lucy. He feels as though he had “been on borrowed time a long while”, as a result of killing men during the war, and believes he deserves whatever cards he is dealt.

At its heart, The Light between Oceans is a story about love, loss, right and wrong. It is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching novel. The devastation Isabel felt in losing her own children helped to justify her decision to keep baby Lucy, and although what Isabel did was wrong, the novel is written so sympathetically that I felt for all the characters at one point or another.

The Light between Oceans was Judy’s choice for our February book club. We had a wonderful discussion about morals and heart-wrenching decisions. Many of us were torn by the moral dilemma posed in the book.

My rating: 8/10

Book club rating: 8.4/10

This is the fifth book I have read for the AWW2013 challenge.

awwbadge_2013

Have you read The Light between Oceans? What did you think about the moral dilemma posed in the novel?

 

Still Alice

Still Alice

Our book club book for January was Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and was chosen by Jo.

Alice Howland is a fifty year-old professor of psychology at Harvard University. She is married to a successful biologist with whom she has three grown children. Alice’s life is hectic – full of work, travel, family commitments and running. Alice has also been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Early in the novel we see Alice becoming forgetful which she puts down to over work until one day, she becomes completely disorientated while running her usual route. Alice is devastated but quick to accept her diagnosis, although her husband, John, is not so accepting. Alice takes part in a clinical trial for a new drug, Amylix, and it was interesting to read how these trials work. Much of the novel centres around Alice’s desire to maintain herself and still be ‘Alice’, while conscious of the fact that she is losing her grip on her memory…

“More and more, she was experiencing a growing distance from her self-awareness. Her sense of Alice – what she knew and understood, what she liked and disliked, how she felt and perceived – was … like a soap bubble…”

I was surprised by how quickly this disease took hold of Alice. The entire story spans two years and by the end Alice can no longer remember her own children. This book is a compelling, heart-wrenching and devastating portrayal of life on the inside of Alzheimer’s. I found myself crying over it and Alice’s fate quite a bit – something I don’t usually do when reading. Genova has a PH.D in neuroscience from Harvard which allowed her access to many experts in the field. In the wrong hands, this book could have felt like a science text book, but Genova has done an amazing job in her debut novel, to give it a soul. About a third of the way through the book, Alice goes to visit an Alzheimer’s Special Care Unit, and reminisces about a butterfly necklace her mother once gave her. She remembers being six or seven at the time and being devastated to learn that butterflies only live for a couple of days. Her mother comforts her by saying

“Just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic”.

This is such a poignant quote given Alice’s struggles.

I’m so glad Jo chose this book and I will definitely be searching out more of Lisa’s books in the future.

My rating: 8.5/10

Book club rating: 8.25/10

Gone Girl

Gone Girl picture

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Gone Girl is a psychological thriller about the dissolution of a marriage. It is the third novel from Chicago-based novelist Gillian Flynn. Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years but have recently grown apart. They had been living in New York until Nick’s Mother was diagnosed with Cancer. They then relocated to Nick’s hometown of Missouri, along the Mississippi River, to care for her. Nick is a journalist, and Amy writes quizzes for a popular magazine, although both have recently lost their jobs. In Missouri, Nick buys a bar with his twin sister Margo. The purchase is funded by Amy, who has a trust fund that was set up by her parents from the proceeds of their successful novels in the Amazing Amy series.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy mysteriously disappears from their home. The police are convinced that Nick has killed Amy, but after piecing together a treasure hunt Amy left as an anniversary present, Nick realises that Amy has not only faked her own death, but also framed Nick for her murder.

The novel is written in a dual narrative with the reader getting Nick’s perspective at the current time, and Amy’s story in flashback style which we later discover is a fake diary she has written. Because of the psychological nature of the story, the reader is compelled to keep reading, but because the characters are so unlikeable, I found myself not caring much whether Amy was alive or dead. Gone Girl was my choice for our December book club after I read many glowing reports on twitter. However, I was expecting more of a scary thriller and I didn’t find this book scary in the traditional sense, so I was a bit disappointed on that level. Those of us in book club who finished the book all agreed that Amy was a serious nutcase and the lengths she went to in order to set Nick up were astounding.

My score 7.5/10

Book club score 7/10

The Hare with Amber Eyes

The Hare with Amber Eyes

Author: Edmund de Waal

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

RRP: $19.95

351 pp

Category: Biography/History

This month, Club Read has been reading The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.

In 1994, English Ceramicist, Edmund de Waal inherited 264 Netsuke from his great uncle Ignace.  All hand crafted in Japan, the Netsuke were originally made as toggles to fasten a pouch onto the obi of a Kimonos. They were intricately crafted from ivory and wood, often inlaid with amber or bone, and were no bigger than a matchbox.

The Netsuke had been passed down through generations of the Ephrussi family.  The Ephrussi’s originated from Odessa and at one time were the largest exporters of grain in the world. Charles Ephrussi, the family’s patriarch, was an avid collector who socialised with the likes of Proust, Renoir and the Rothschilds. Over the decades the family, and the Netsuke with them, moved all over the world – to Paris, Vienna, Hungary, and Japan.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is a book that defies genre. It combines history, art and biography together in a way that is engaging. It is crammed full of interesting details about the Ephrussi family – how they gained their fortune in Odessa and Paris, and lost it in Austria on the eve of World War Two.  I loved discovering that Charles Ephrussi is the man in the top hat, standing in the background of Renoir’s famous painting Luncheon of the Boating Party (a copy of which just happens to hang on my wall!).

There was a general consensus amongst club members that the early part of the book was quite dry – particularly in regards to the acquisitions of Charles Ephrussi. We were all agreed, however, that the second part of the book when the family moved to Vienna was much warmer. The story of how the Netsuke managed to survive is a fascinating one and there are many colourful characters of the large Ephrussi family to enjoy along the way. All in all a terrific read filled with interesting historical insights.

8/10

Club Read average: 8/10

In the Country of Men

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In the Country of Men

Hisham Matar

Publisher: Penguin

2724 pp

Category: Fiction

Read for my book club

In the Country of men is the story of Suleiman, a nine year old boy living in Tripoli, Libya. His life is one of relative ease with his father a successful businessman. Times, however, are changing, as Libya is in the midst of a revolution, with Moammer Qaddafi having risen to power. Suleiman’s father is playing a dangerous game as he becomes part of an underground resistance group. Suleiman’s mother, Najwa, urges his father to flee the country, but he stubbornly refuses and insists he is more useful within Libya. Left to raise Suleiman alone much of the time, she turns to alcohol to try to forget her troubles, buying it illegally from the local baker. Growing up in a traditional Muslim family, she was forced to marry Faraj when she was only fourteen. Gradually, she grows to love him, but in a country dominated by men, Najwa struggles to find her own identity.

When Suleiman’s father, Faraj, is taken by the Revolutionary Party, Suleiman wonders whether he will ever see his father again. Their neighbour, Ustath Rashid, has been murdered by these same men because of his political beliefs.  For his own safety, Suleiman is sent to Egypt and as it turns out, he is never to return to his homeland.

Sense of place is an important part of the book, and Tripoli, with its market square in town and its coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, is a character in itself.

Opinions differed about this novel in my book club. Some loved it, and some thought that nothing much happened. For me, the writing is deceptively simple, but underneath is a complex novel with many layers and plenty to think about. We can’t really begin to imagine how difficult life must be living in a country such as Libya. The choices people are often forced to make in order to keep their families safe must be excruciating. It is a shame that it is such as struggle to live in a place that sounds so beautiful.

Matar’s debut novel was nominated for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.

Collectively we rated this book 7.5/10