M.L. Stedman’s breathtaking debut novel is an inspired book club selection.
Whether you share this mesmerising Australian novel with your reading group before you catch the screen adaptation, or follow-up the film with the book, The Light Between Oceans is sure to spark a memorable discussion. Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel are the only inhabitants of Janus Rock, a remote island off Western Australia. They live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world, until their lives hit an unthinkable crossroads, and they break the rules to follow their hearts… Start with these reading group questions and make your next book club meet-up one to remember.
Reading Group Questions
- Whose story would you say this is?
- Do you think characters in the book do anything ‘wrong’? If so, who and what? If you trace back wrongdoing to its very root in the novel, where would you say it starts?
- Are any of the characters ‘bad’? If so, who? What makes a person warrant the description ‘bad’?
- Which of the characters did you have most sympathy with and why? Did it change at different times in the novel? Describe how your attitude to characters developed or switched along the way. What caused the changes?
- What would you have done in Isabel’s place: i) when the boat washed up; ii) when the Anzac Day events were revealed; and iii) when the police came to the island? What would you have done in Tom’s place at each stage?
- Discuss the importance of ‘off stage’ influences – such as the war, and the character of Frank, on the plot, and actions of the characters.
- ‘A kid needs its mum,’ Tom says in chapter 5. Discuss the effect of motherlessness on the characters.
- ‘Your family’s never in your past. You carry it around with you everywhere,’ Tom tells Isabel. Consider the meaning of ‘family’ in the novel.
- Do you think the child ended up with the right family at the end of the book? How do you think the situation should have been resolved?
- Are right and wrong absolutes, or do they change depending on your point of view? If they are not fixed points, how do you decide what’s right and what’s wrong, and what happens when your values differ from your neighbours’?
- Tom is torn between not hurting those he loves, and following the rules. Is it ever wrong to obey the law? If so, when?
- Discuss the impact of Isabel’s miscarriages and subsequent frame of mind on her moral and legal culpability. Is Isabel more deserving of the reader’s compassion because her actions spring from a natural and positive urge to love?
- ‘Sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember.’ Discuss the role of forgetting in forgiveness.
- Who has the right to forgive a wrong? Tom and Isabel are treated leniently because Hannah speaks up for them, and encourages clemency. Should victims be able to reduce the penalties handed down to wrongdoers whose actions have affected them?
- ‘On the Offshore Lights you can tell yourself any story you want, and no one will say you’re wrong – not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.’ Discuss the relationship between isolation and illusion/delusion in the novel.
- The author describes the structure of the book as resting on a series of triangles, with different characters becoming the fulcrum at different times – e.g. Tom/Izzy/Lucy; Hannah/Frank/Grace; Violet/Bill/Isabel; Tom/Ralph/Bluey; Septimus/Hannah/Gwen. Do you agree? If so, what effect do you think the changes in balance have on the reader’s experience of the story?
- Light, literally and metaphorically, is core to the story. The incandescence of Janus Light, the oil lamps, electric lamps, the candles and the darkness they stave off, all serve to illuminate the characters and their changing era. Discuss the meaning of light in The Light Between Oceans.
- The novel is full of opposites – light and dark; ocean and land; the wild Southern Ocean and the warmer Indian Ocean; war and peace; truth and lies; guilt and redemption. Some of these have symbolic value – what role does the symbolism play? What is the impact of these ‘Janus’ pairs that run through the novel?
- Letters feature prominently in the novel. Discuss how and why the writers used them to reveal, conceal and confess.
- Consider the importance of stoicism and self-sacrifice in the novel. Are these qualities still valued today?
- What role has war played in shaping modern Australia?
- The continent of Australia hasn’t moved since 1926, but are we as a nation closer to the centre of things – more ‘stitched into the world’s fabric’? Discuss isolation then and now, and its effect on the Australian national psyche.
This mesmerizing Australian novel has been a bestselling book around the world, and Hollywood movie rights were recently snapped up by Dreamworks, with David Heyman (Harry Potter) set to produce. It is the winner of three prestigious ABIA awards, including their 'Book of the Year', and also won the Indie Awards' 'Book of the Year'.Buy now
Your questions about her incredible novel, The Light Between Oceans, answered.
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