Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Light Between Oceans – M L Stedman

You have to love the cover!
This isn’t a review of this book. There seem to be more than enough reviews going around without me adding to them. (You can read some of them here.) This is simply jotting down some thoughts I had. 

In my opinion, Random House would have had a difficult time deciding how to market The Light Between Oceans because it starts off as literary fiction. But then it turns into mainstream, and could also be classified as historical, or women’s fiction, which is odd when the protagonist is male. Another thing that occurred to me is that when there is so much hype about a book you read it with a certain amount of expectation, and that’s always dangerous. Usually because the narrative doesn’t live up to your expectations. I feel sorry for the author in this respect;  I am sure she didn’t ask for all the hype, although she might have welcomed it. What do they say about any publicity being good publicity?

When I started the book I thought it might reach my Top Ten List. I love the sea, I love lighthouses, what more could I ask for? There’s a place, on page 40 in my edition, where the writing soars. It’s about Tom’s first time, alone, in the lighthouse, and the words that got me – here, in my heart and here, in my head – were, “For the briefest moment, he had no edges.”

I left a little gap there, so you could think about how it might be to have no edges.

I love the writer’s exploration of Tom’s connection with the vastness of the ocean, the emptiness of the sky, and the stars. And the light. How the light of the lighthouse is a metaphor for spirituality and goodness, and how the stars (because we keep coming back to the stars) reflect this, too.  And how tending the light helps Tom make his way out of the darkness of his war experiences. 

From the start of the novel we are led to believe that the story is all going to be told through Tom’s point of view. His character is beautifully drawn;  I wanted to stay with him through the whole journey. But, sadly, we gradually lose track of Tom and his thoughts.  We are still privy to him, but his part in the story becomes overshadowed by (too many) other characters and the minutia of their lives.  As a result of this, the narrative loses its backbone.  It flounders.  In a way this all happens when they leave the lighthouse, when they leave the metaphor for spirituality and goodness.  Regardless of what that indicates, a good story still needs to have structure.

There are other points I should raise, but I won’t.  This is enough. Back to my own work, with lots to think about my own (unfinished and unpublished) narrative. (I think you know what I'm saying...) 

P.S.  It's just occurred to me what a great setting a lighthouse would make for a gothic novel! 
And I wanted to end this with a stunning photo of a lighthouse being engulfed by waves. I found one but it is (in spite of it being on several other websites) protected by copyright.  Please go here to read about Jean Guichard, the photographer extraordinaire of lighthouses, and to view his images. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

"There is ecstasy in paying attention."*

Last night just before I shut my eyes I read some lines from Anne Lamott’s bird by bird

 If you’re a writer and you haven’t heard of bird by bird then do yourself a favour and buy yourself a copy. You won’t regret it. The subtitle of bird by bird is Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but it’s so much more than this. Yesterday the writing hadn’t been going so well. I don’t know if it was because it was a public holiday and there were distractions, like sleeping in, and having The Loved One around, but the writing wasn’t satisfying. I felt uninspired, a little lost, not sure if I was going in the right direction. And then last night I read a small chapter called Looking Around and found these lines, which stopped me in my tracks and made me think. They made me re-evaluate where I was up to, and why perhaps the day’s writing hadn’t gone so well. And, more importantly, why it had seemed so joyless.
The lines were these:

            When what we see catches us off guard, and when we write
it as realistically and openly as possible, it offers hope. 

And, a little higher up in the same paragraph:

Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain
of the natural world...

I put the lines together. I thought, Ah, that’s what I haven’t been doing today.  I’ve been writing without emotion or thought, without taking the time to look around and describe what my character is looking at, and how and why the sun setting in the trees as she drives home, for instance, might make an impression on her, and what that impression is. 

And so this morning I will be backtracking, and rewriting what I wrote yesterday, but this time with some purpose, and with Lamott’s words not far away.  

As a postscript, I think I got more out of that short chapter and those few lines than I would have if I had sat down and read the whole book. 

Sometimes it’s a matter of focus. 

And sometimes one is blessed. You find exactly what you need when you need it. 

* Anne Lamott, bird by bird