Our readers chose M.L. Stedman's August debut, The Light Between Oceans, as their #2 book of 2012. We understand why. Set just after World War I, it's the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, who, after several failed attempts to have a child of their own, claim a baby that washes up on the island's shore. Stedman combines a complicated moral dilemma and an exotic Australian setting to create a compelling narrative—a story that is more interested in exploring "why" and "who" than "right" and "wrong." It's the sort of novel to inspire debate in your heart—or in your book club!
If you're one of the readers who voted for The Light Between Oceans and are looking for something to read next, here are some ideas.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. Like Oceans, this is one of our favorite 2012 debuts, and like Oceans, it is a psychologically acute look at a very thorny moral dilemma. Dozens of survivors of a 1912 steamer sinking are adrift in one tiny boat. Who will survive—and what will they have to do to achieve that goal?
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. When the Sherbournes decide to adopt the child they find as their own, that one action drastically affects the residents of their small town. In Tom Franklin's atmospheric third novel, another missing girl sets the residents of a rural Mississippi town buzzing, bringing back memories of a similar case 20 years earlier and forcing two former friends to work together to uncover the culprit. It's a haunting story of secrets, regret and friendship.
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville. If the vivid descriptions of Australia captured your imagination, this Booker Prize shortlisted novel about the country's colorful beginnings would be a good book to try next. Following the unlikely friendship between British explorer Daniel Rooke and a young aboriginal girl, it's based on a real-life story.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. This debut novel was a word-of-mouth hit when it was published in the summer of 2005, and it also deals with a morally complicated situation: Dr. David Henry's decision to put one of his twin daughters in an asylum. After all, it's 1964, and children with Down syndrome are not considered able to be productive members of society. To spare his wife pain, he tells her that the child died at birth—but the wounds linger, haunting the family, even as the twins grow up unaware of each other's existence.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. Though this novel, Shriver's acclaimed follow-up to We Need to Talk About Kevin, is set in modern times, its thought-provoking structure should please fans of The Light Between Oceans. It's the story of Irina, who is presented with a choice on a night out in London: does she betray her partner of several years and kiss another man? From that moment, the novel is divided into two realities: one where Irina leaves staid Lawrence and embarks on a relationship with a charismatic snooker player, and one where she does not. Which is the better choice? It's up to the reader to decide.
Faith by Jennifer Haigh. Is there a more morally complex issue than the sexual abuse scandal that continues to rock the Catholic church? Haigh's sensitive, beautifully written fourth novel explores the fallout of this issue from a side not often seen: That of the accused abuser, Art, part of the close-knit McGann clan. Like Stedman, Haigh presents her characters without judgment, proving to the reader that nothing is black and white.
Readers, got any recs for fans of The Light Between Oceans? Find more "What to read next" posts here.