This book has taken me a while to read – in both me picking up the novel to actually give it a go, and in my own reading experience. I’ve known about this novel for a long time. I kept seeing it on the ‘Your Future Favourites’ table of my favourite local bookstore. I had heard countless good things about it in blogs and on booktube. But still, I was hesitant. Sometimes when you know a book is going to knock you sideways, it takes a while to come to terms with that and get you into a good headspace for reading the novel. But it’s done now and you know what? Yes, it did knock me sideways. But I’m so glad it did.
Spoiler Free Review
Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Authors: Anthony Doerr
Published: Schribner, 2014
(from GR) Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
I finished this book last night and if I hadn’t finished it sitting next to a friend, I would have been in tears. I knew from the moment I picked this book up that it would break me. I had heard such wonderful things about it. I knew the subject material of this book would be haunting, beautiful and so horrifying. I thought I had prepared myself. I don’t think you can.
Let’s start with the characters: this story changes perspective from chapter to chapter, but the story mostly follows three characters. Marie, a young girl who has to heavily rely on her father due to blindness. Although she has no sight, she is far from weak. She is a strong character, full of meaningful thoughts and determination. We follow Werner, a young boy growing up in an orphanage, whose mind runs a mile a minute with question after question, and who holds an aptitude for science. Less so, but still importantly, we follow a German officer who is hunting for a mysterious diamond. Although he is dying, he will fight until his last breath to find what he has been searching for.
Doerr’s characters feel so real and their stories are undoubtedly based on fact. He has managed to humanise the two sides of the conflict, and as I read I found it easier to understand the feelings and emotions of all the characters as they live life in this horrifying period of time. I think I found Werner’s character the most difficult to read, but only because it was heart-breaking to see how someone’s mind can be taken over by the words of others. Then again, as he sees the atrocities and makes connections with others affected my the war, it was really interesting to see a person change, adapt and accept that what they thought was right, was actually wrong. Marie’s character was so humbling. I really enjoyed seeing her interact with others and still take a stand regardless of her disability. I feel she was the strongest character in the book, and I wouldn’t have been able to survive if her story was my own. It was also wonderful to see perspectives of those trying to survive during this time, and see them fighting in a small way that makes all the difference.
The plot was at once harrowing and beautiful. I enjoyed the fact that it flipped back and forth in time, allowing the reader to piece together the story like a jigsaw. This built tension as we moved towards the end of the story. Parts of the story were definitely difficult to read, especially towards the end when we really felt for these characters. There were times when I had to put my tablet down because I didn’t want to face that was happening, but this just made the story even better, in my opinion. To hear about these circumstances is hard, but they are stories that need to be told. People need to hear all the harrowing details to be able to appreciate what we have now, what others went through, and what no-one should have to go through again.
Finally, a little note about the writing. It has been a while since I’ve read such lovely prose. Doerr paints pictures of death, love and loss with such wonderful words – not one out of place. It was, simply, a joy to read and I’m so thankful I’ve finally picked this book up.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars!
Could it have been anything less? If you are even pondering about picking this book up, please do. It will make you think, make you feel, make you want to hug these characters and take them somewhere safe.
Anyone else loved this story as much as I have? I’m definitely in the mind to pick up some more of Anthony Doerr’s work, if anyone has any recommendations for me!