It really hit me as I prepared to write this blog entry, the high quality of writing and creativity in the books I read this year, because the fact that these two books didn’t crack my top 10 astounds me. This is a pair of outstanding reads, beautifully written, imaginative, emotionally moving, and powerful. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that both of these exquisite novels are debuts. Congratulations to both talented authors.
M.L. Stedman’s debut novel tells an emotional tale of loss, love, and lies, set on the isolated western coast of Australia in the early 1900′s. Tom Sherbourne is a decorated war hero trying to reconcile his role during the war, and his own difficult childhood. He takes an isolating job as a lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus Rock, but that doesn’t prevent him from meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Isabel. The two share a powerful bond and set up life on Janus Rock, but after three miscarriages and the doubtful prospect of having a child of their own, Isabel is consumed with grief. When a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a newborn baby, Isabel sees this as a sign from God that she should raise this little girl as her own, despite the fact that there is no sign of a mother. The choices Isabel and Tom make a difficult and will have consequences in their future that will shatter several lives. Stedman’s writing is adept in describing the isolation and beauty of Janus Rock, the power of the ocean, the grace and beauty of the lighthouse, and the complex ethical and emotional issues that emerge from the Sherbourne’s actions. The Light Between Oceans reminded me of my favorite film from 2011 called A SEPARATION (from Iran). The similarities lie in the fact that good people are forced to make decisions for which there is no good result, and we understand and even empathize with each decision made, knowing that the end result will be painful and devastating for all involved. This is a powerful read.
Profoundly, beautiful coming-of-age story set to a slow, apocalyptic end-of-the world tale. When the residents of a southern Californian suburb first hear that the earth’s rotation is slowing, there is a brief panic, but human beings being the adaptable lot they are, soon things fall into step again, with some minor tweaks. But as the earth’s rotation continues to slow, and more, serious consequences begin to emerge, 12-year-old Julia, and others, begin to understand that nothing will be the same again. Yet even as the human race begins its presumed road to extinction, Julia must cope with the realities of being a young teen, including buying her first bra, negotiating the whimsical nature of friendship, and falling in love for the first time. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is heart-rending in its tragic inevitability, yet hopeful in the way Julia move though adolescence into adulthood.