Two Mini Reviews

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

Five words from the blurb: Australia, lighthouse, childless, baby, keep

The Light Between Oceans is set in a remote lighthouse off the western coast of Australia. It is here that a young childless couple live with the grief of being unable to produce a living child. Their lives change when a lifeboat washes up on the shore. It contains the body of man and a tiny baby, which they decide to keep and pass off as their own.

The simple fact was that, sure as a graft will take and fuse on a rose bush, the root stock of Isobel’s motherhood – her every drive and instinct, left raw and exposed by the recent stillbirth – had grafted seamlessly to the scion, the baby which needed mothering. Grief and distance bound the wound, perfecting the bond with a speed only nature could engineer.

I initially loved this book. The story was fast paced, gripping and emotionally tense. Unfortunately things went downhill as the book progressed. The pace slowed in the middle section and it became predictable and overly sentimental. I think this book would have been better if the plot had been condensed and about 100 pages removed.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read, but it didn’t have the depth to really satisfy me.

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The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Five words from the blurb: Iraq, war, graphic, memories, hero

The Yellow Birds is described as a novel, but it is more like a series of short stories, all based around the experiences of one soldier in the Iraq war. The author, Kevin Powers, served in the US Army in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. His first hand experience is obvious as the scenes are as powerful as they are graphic.

When the mortars fell, the leaves and fruit and birds were frayed like ends of rope. They lay on the ground in scattered piles, torn feathers and leaves and the rinds of broken fruit intermingling. The sunlight fell absently through the spaces in the treetops, here and there glistening as if on water from smudges of bird blood and citrus.

This book reminded me of The Things They Carried – it even shared some of the repeating rhythms. Anyone who loved O’Brien’s book will find a lot to admire in The Yellow Birds, but I found it shared a lot of the same problems. I longed for more connection between the stories and I wanted a plot instead of just snapshots of individual scenes.

There is some powerful writing within this book, but it just felt like an Iraqi version of The Things They Carried and didn’t give me any new insights into the horrors of war.


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18 Comments

  1. David says:

    Funnily enough I picked up ‘The Yellow Birds’ to read yesterday – it is shortlisted for the National Book Award and has had some excellent reviews. But I wasn’t quite in the mood for the style of it (last week I read Randolph Stow’s wonderful Australian classic ‘The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea’ and nothing I pick up seems to measure up to it!).
    Anyway, I’ve ended up reading David Abrams’ ‘Fobbit’ instead, which is more of a blackly comic, satirical view of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I’ll certainly come back to Powers’ book soon though. There seem to be a few good novels around this year about the war in Iraq – Ben Fountain’s ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is still one of the stand-out reads of the year for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Yes. The Yellow Birds has some amazing reviews. I can see why – there is some amazing writing in there. I’m just not a fan of short stories and it felt very similar to ‘The Things They Carried’ (which I only read recently).

      Thanks for letting me know about ‘The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea’ It isn’t a book I’ve heard of before, but I’ve just looked it up and it sounds wonderful. I’ve added it to my wishlist.

  2. Sandy says:

    I’ve been wanting to read both of these books. I actually am on hold for the audio of The Light Between Oceans, and I’m sad that it is so light. I’m OK with light, but the plot doesn’t really sound light, so I can see why you were disappointed.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I can see this book working well on audio and I think you might enjoy it more than I did. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

  3. Athira says:

    I heard about Light Between Oceans yesterday and was fascinated by it. But I guess, now I’m not that interested in it. I somehow cannot handle sentimental books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, Light Between Oceans seems to be dividing opinion so you may well enjoy it. I have a very low tolerance for sentimental. You might have more luck than me.

  4. Alyce says:

    I liked The Light Between Oceans, and would agree that it is somewhat light, especially when compared to more serious literary works, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, Yes. A lot of people love it. I thought it was OK, but I wish it had been less predictable. Glad you had more luck than I did.

  5. Jenners says:

    I’m thinking the first one is published in the U.S. under a different name as it sounds very familiar to another book I’ve been seeing reviews for. (But I might be terribly wrong … maybe it is just the covers that are different.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, It has the same title in the US, but a different cover (dark blue with lighthouse) There have been quite a lot of reviews for this one so I’m not surprised you’ve seen it around.

  6. Caroline says:

    I absolutely love The Things They Carried but had never heard of The Yellow Birds. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, I suspect you’ll really enjoy The Yellow Birds. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

  7. nomadreader says:

    I’m planning to read The Yellow Birds soon, as it’s now been named a finalist for the National Book Award. I’m glad to know it’s not a novel, as I tend to be disappointed by those too.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, The Yellow Birds seems to be cropping up on a few prize lists/prize speculation sites and I can see why. It has some amazing writing, but unfortunately I need more than that. I need a plot and a character to engage with. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

  8. Lindsay says:

    I loved The Light Between Oceans, I hope to read The Yellow Birds in the not too distant future, I am little nervous about how it will portray war. I’ve heard that hte writing is beautiful.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lindsay, There are a few graphic scenes in Yellow Birds, but they were actually a lot milder than I was expecting (everything is after you’ve read The Kindly Ones!) The writing is beautiful so I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to seeing your thoughts.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hello all,
    Yes “Light Between the Oceans” was published in the US under a different name. We Americans are too simple minded to get the metaphor I guess. I believe it was “To the Lighthouse,” and yes I ABONDONED ship/book after the initial read. I think it suffered from the ebook tendency to have a great start so you buy it and then it just fades/washes away. Geez I’m enjoying this. Thank you Jackie and everyone for the comments.
    Also “Yellow Birds” was one of David Mitchell’s recommended – best new novelists, which I read from your links Jackie. Thanks again.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m not sure it was published under another name – I can only find this version: http://www.amazon.com/The-Light-Between-Oceans-Novel/dp/1451681739/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351083490&sr=8-1&keywords=stedman+lighthouse
      I have to agree about the ebook factor. I’ve found it alot recently and agree this book has an amazing begining which then just drifts into averageness. Such a shame.

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