A Blue Room Book Review – The Light Between Oceans – ML Stedman

.light-between-ocean.

Have you heard the news out of Canada? For us Luddite inclined traditionalists it’s the harbinger of what’s to come. Canada now, it seems, is replacing its postmen and women with something called community mailboxes. No longer will the mail come to the householder – Canadians will have to go fetch their post! This, of course, is a response to the decline of paper items going through the system, caused by the lazy alternative of various forms of electronica – and without question the increasing greed for mega-profits in order to pay ‘those on high’ even more obscene bonuses for making social responsibility the victim of yet deeper cost cutting and price gouging. Mark my words – Auspost will go down the same route before too long. Despite the best efforts of myself and Marieke Hardy, with her crew, the days of the letter are numbered. Unlike parcels, enveloped communication has become increasingly unprofitable. Canada further intends dismaying its throwbacks, still of the view that putting pen to paper to record one’s news or thoughts for the pleasure of another, by increasing the cost of its postage stamps by almost double. It’s win/win you see – a great dip in the wages payout bill with a parallel increase in charges – the way of modern business. Bugger the poor beggars who will have to find new work, the elderly: the public in general!

Here in Oz it seems the demise of our mail deliverers, tootling around on their dinky little motor bikes in their hi-viz canary outfits, will be consigned, like so much else, to the trash cans of history. It was sad enough when the postmaster general forced them to eschew their whistles. Does my memory serve me correctly in that, during my lifetime, we once had twice daily deliveries, with a Saturday one thrown in as well? For this to disappear completely, what is the world coming to???

Believe it or not there is a tenuous link between this rant and the book under review. The occupation of the main protagonist in ‘The Light Between Oceans’ has already gone the way the fine cohorts of men and women who deliver us our daily post seem destined to as well. His job is now no longer required by the modern world, but well and truly existed during my earlier decades as being vital to the safety of those at sea. Yes, lighthouse keepers for decades and decades spent months, even years, perched on rocks around or off our coastlines, ensuring that shipping didn’t end up smashed into the same location. My island alone is renowned for the sagas of those public spirited men and their families who gave up so much to attend to the lights at places such as Eddystone Point, as well as Tasman, Deal and Maatsuyker Islands. In this novel we meet the keepers and women of Janus Rock, a precipitous outcrop straddling the divide between the Indian and Southern Oceans off the coast of Western Australia.

Stedman has come up with a ripper yarn of the several Sophie choices that befall one self-reliant couple entrusted to the maintenance of the beam on Janus (there is much significance in the author’s selection of name for this site of the novel’s core event) Rock. The man was mind-wounded by his experiences in the Great War – his missus a lass of stoic, strong-willed stock. Much shared happiness, despite their isolation, is chiselled away by a decision foisted on them by some flotsam washed up on their tiny island. The book has a strong start recounting the tale of the wooing by the feisty maiden who is salve to her war-damaged intended beau. This was bookended by an ending that produced a pair of misty eyes for this reader at the unfairness of the hand that can be dealt. The saga does flag somewhat in it’s middle stages, but as the guilt starts to play on the minds of our isolated, in both senses of the word, duo, the author really hits her straps.

‘The Light Between Oceans’ was generally well received by critics around the land, a tribute to the skills of this fresh writer with no back catalogue. For her longevity, the proof of the pudding, as always, will be the sophomore publication. With this engaging first try it augurs well. But for a novelist today, as with car makers, milk deliverers, small farmers and business people – and posties – a future in anything is no given.

M.L. Stedman

News article on Canadian Postal Service = http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/12/12/canada-mail-delivery/3995481/

An interview with ML Stedman = http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/interview-ml-stedman-20120322-1vkty.html

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