Book No 29 (2015) : The Other Side of the World

other side of the worldCharlotte is happiest outside, wandering the fields, taking in nature. She loves the leaves and the seasons, the cool and unpredictable English weather. But the house she shares with her husband and their baby daughters is cramped and mouldy, leaving Henry yearning for warmth and sunshine.  When he persists with his suggestion that the family emigrate to Perth, Australia, Charlotte is exhausted by motherhood and too lacking in energy to resist. So they make the journey with their young family and Henry takes up his post at the University. His wife however, has no reason to leave the house and she becomes increasingly isolated and frustrated by motherhood. Until she meets Nicholas. When Henry has to travel to India to be with his ailing mother, Charlotte makes a decision which will change her life and her marriage, possibly irrevocably.

The descriptive powers of Stephanie Bishop make this book read like poetry; I could feel the oppressive Australian heat, English rain and Indian humidity. Whilst the plot is simple enough, the evocative writing makes this an engrossing read. It seemed to me a very honest picture of the realities of marriage and motherhood, as Charlotte loves her children but struggles with the loss of her own identity and craves time to be alone, to express her creativity through her painting. In her resentment, she ‘takes it out’ on her daughters; whilst no-one would condone such behaviour, Bishop’s portrayal makes Charlotte a highly credible character.

Born in India but sent to England, Henry struggles with his own sense of not belonging there; ‘England was always secondary.’ Once away from the fens, Charlotte yearns to return. The author uses ‘The Other Side of the World‘ to make her reader really think about what home is, and how the pull of a place can be overwhelmingly strong. What happens when our homing instincts conflict with where we believe our duties lie?

This is a thought-provoking and moving read, one of those rare books whose imprint lurks in the memory long after the final page.

Thank you to NetGalley for the copy of this novel.

Book No 39 (2014) : The Light Between Oceans

lighht between oceansLighthouses have fascinated me for years. In fact, I am such a lighthouse nerd that I subscribe to the Trinity House bulletin, so I can keep up with all the latest pharology news. Whilst all the other kids in my childrens’ classes swap stories of summer holidays in EuroDisney and Torremolinos, my offspring have had to put up with being dragged to beacons in remote areas of the UK. My favourite lighthouse porn is a slim volume entitled “Lighthouse Accommodation Britain and Worldwide” by Joy Adcock, which allows me to feed my habit, planning both real and imagined lighthouse journeys.

So with this interest, ‘The Light Between Oceans‘ would have to be a pretty awful book for me not to like it. I read it for a Book Group discussion and although I’d read it before, I didn’t have to have my Fresnel twisted to read it again.

Tom Sherbourne, returning from fighting in WW1, finds his way to Partageuse in Western Australia. Looking for a quieter life and time to heal, he accepts a posting as a temporary lightkeeper on Janus Rock, a remote rock lighthouse situated where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Whilst on shore leave, he meets and marries Isabelle, a schoolteacher’s daughter who accompanies him to the island. Life seems idyllic, but the Sherbournes happiness is marred by the fact that Izzy seems unable to have children, and sadly suffers three miscarriages. One early-morning, a boat washes up on the island’s shore. Inside the boat are a dead man, and a crying baby. The discovery forces Tom and Izzy to make a momentous choice.

I have yet to meet anyone who has read this book and not liked it. The writing is engaging. examining a highly emotive and moral issue from all viewpoints. At one stage I was firmly on the side of one character, until the author flipped the narration, so I found myself siding with someone else. Now that the nights are drawing in, M.L.Stedman’s novel will really light up a dark evening.