Light The book club will discuss M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans: A Novel at our Thursday, February 13, 2014 meeting at the Leawood Pioneer Library (7 PM). Here are some suggested questions for discussion.

  1. If you were in Tom Sherbourne’s position, would you have let the lightkeeper’s log book “stay silent” when the baby was found? Do you understand why Tom did what he did? Explain.
  2. If you were in Isabel’s position, what would you have done when the baby was found? Would any of your subsequent actions have differed from Isabel’s?
  3. At what point, if any, during the story did you feel uncomfortable with the Sherbourne’s choices? What would you have done differently?
  4. The author writes “The logbook tells the tale of the keeper’s life in the same steady pen. The exact minute the light was lit, the exact minute it was put out the following morning. The weather, the ships that passed. Those that signaled, those that inched by on a squally sea, too intent on dealing with the waves to break into Morse or— still sometimes— international code, about where they came from or where they were bound.” Any comments or reactions to that passage?
  5. Isabel says, ““Love’s bigger than rule books, Tom. If you’d reported the boat, she’d be stuck in some dreadful orphanage by now.” Do you agree with either the first or second sentence? Explain.
  6. What role, if any, does the war play in the novel? Or is it only background atmosphere?
  7. How did you react to the passage where Isabel thinks, “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. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter. That seemed odd. As to her own status, she wondered whether she was still technically a sister, now that her adored brothers had died.”
  8. Does the amount of grief experienced by Bill and Violet Graysmark and Tom and Isabel Sherbourne outweigh the grief of Hannah Roennfeldt and mitigate the choices made by the Sherbournes? Is there ever a case where “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?”
  9. The author states, “History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent. That’s how life goes on— protected by the silence that anesthetizes shame. Men who came back from the war with stories they could have told about the desperate failings of comrades at the point of death say only that they died bravely. To the outside world, no soldier ever visited a brothel or acted like a savage or ran and hid from the enemy. Being over there was punishment enough. When wives have to hide the mortgage money or the kitchen knives from a husband who’s lost the thread, they do it without a word, sometimes acknowledging it not even to themselves.” Do you agree? Is there such a thing as authentic or true history?
  10. When Tom is talking to Bluey about marriage and parenting, he thinks “Sometimes, you’re the one who strikes it lucky. Sometimes, it’s the other poor bastard who’s left with the short straw, and you just have to shut up and get on with it.” Is that true? Or is it a jaded, cynical view of reality? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  11. In a conversation with Ralph, Tom says, “Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.” Have you ever faced a situation where right and wrong were so entangled that the choice was unclear? How do you react to Tom’s statement?
  12. The author states, “A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.” Is that an accurate metaphor? Why or why not?
  13. Tom reflects, “there are different versions of himself to farewell— the abandoned eight-year-old; the delusional soldier who hovered somewhere in hell; the lightkeeper who dared to leave his heart undefended. Like Russian dolls, these lives sit within him.” Are we all different versions of ourselves hidden like Russian dolls within ourselves?
  14. Hannah remembers a conversation with her husband Frank when he said, “Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.” He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow. “I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No”— his voice became sober—“ we always have a choice. All of us.” Your reaction?
  15. Is The Light Between Oceans a romance or a tragedy? Is it a story about the struggle between good intentions and evil or about the fogginess of moral choice?
  16. The novel closes with a very melancholy passage. What are your thoughts on the passage: “There are still more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory. Isabel is part of him, wherever she is, just like the war and the light and the ocean. Soon enough the days will close over their lives, the grass will grow over their graves, until their story is just an unvisited headstone. He watches the ocean surrender to night, knowing that the light will reappear.”
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