M.L. Stedman's beautiful, haunting first novel The Light Between Oceans tells the story of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his wife: Tom, a World War I veteran, and Isabel, a spirited young woman who desperately wants a child. They live, quite isolated, on Janus Rock for years as Isabel suffers miscarriages and a stillbirth. When a small boat washes up on Janus with a dead man and a live baby, the choice they make sets in motion an emotionally compelling chain of events. The writing is lovely; the title's choice of prepositions. . . perfect, in fact.
This gorgeous, moving novel immediately caught me with its vivid characters and fascinating setting. I feel there are few book lovers, solitude seekers that we so often are, who haven't at least briefly fantasized about living alone in a lighthouse.
What would it be like, to be so far from other people, so close to the ocean, and so alone?
Stedman writes wonderful descriptions of the natural world surrounding Tom and Isabel as well as their internal landscapes. The oceans of the title made me think of the oceans of feeling and memory each character holds, as well as oceans of right and wrong, revelation and concealment, truth and deception.
And, of course, I do need to note the grammar--not because the author has any deficiences there, but because I have heard more than a few requests for clarification on the use of "between" vs "among."
It's quite simple: "between" is used when describing the relationship of two items, ideas, objects, etc.; "among" is use for three or more. The Clash might ask, "Should I stay or should I go now?" and I might decide between those two alternatives, but I would decide among dozens of t-shirt colors at the Gap.
Both are prepositions, one of the most useful types of words in English for relating nouns to one another temporally and spatially. We have many, many prepositions in English to describe how things relate to one another in time and space, and though native speakers have little trouble with most of them, those who learn English as a second or third language often find them baffling. (Although native speakers do wrestle a bit with the "between/among" and "different than/from" distinctions.)
And lest we think that our troubles with prepositions are a modern problem, part of a generally lamented decline in grammar expertise, I am delighted to note that there's a fascinating ebook edition availalble of Josephine Turck Baker's 1911 classic The Correct Preposition. While usage has certainly changed since Baker's work, it's comforting to know that folks have been wondering about these little words for more than 100 years.
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Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services and the College of Mount Saint Vincent Language Institute.
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