‘From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.’ – Goodreads summary, 2014.
Historical fiction is possibly my favourite genre to read or write, and it is notoriously difficult. I find myself wondering how one can take a topic that has been written about so, so, much, like World War Two, and depict it in a different way or through a different medium. Authors run the risk of recycling old story-lines when they fall back on star-crossed lovers separated by war or elderly grandparents telling the story of their youth.
‘All The Light We Cannot See’, in my opinion, avoids these pitfalls. A breath-taking novel exploring nature, myth, morality and technology, the war almost becomes an afterthought or even, in some cases, an opportunity. Doerr makes you think about the day-to-day details of life during war in such a way that has never occurred to me before and focuses on the tiny battles between normal people that contribute to the war effort on both sides. The plot is incredibly elaborate, with the lives of the two main protagonists – Marie Laure and Werner – intersecting at numerous points and in the most unusual ways: the sea of flames, the radios; all points of interest that I haven’t encountered in so much detail before. The intricacy of this story is the best thing about it.
The second main strength is the characterisation, which in my opinion is absolutely brilliant. Writing much of the book from Marie Laure’s perspective as a young, blind girl opens up the reader to completely new experiences and we are forced to construct our view of characters through every sense but sight – the way they sound and smell, the things they like, how she imagines them to be. Marie Laure herself is a likeable, strong and frankly remarkable character that has you standing firmly in her corner and cheering on her survival. Werner on the other hand is utterly endearing with his inquisitive nature and I have found his struggle to come to terms with life and expectations as a member of the Nazi Youth one of the most fascinating parts of the novel. The juxtaposition between the moral implications and the opportunity for a gifted orphan to rise into the world of science and technology made me think about the period in a completely new way: the new prospects afforded to not only Werner but many of the other characters as well.
My favourite character by far, and deserving of her own paragraph, is Madame Manec. She is amazing. Look out for the name and don’t discount her like I did when she is first introduced; Madame Manec is a breath of fresh air and a pillar of strength in this novel – I’ll leave it at that.
However, I cannot tell a lie – I haven’t finished this book yet. I haven’t given up, I intend to continue, but for some reason it has been slow going. Normally I can whizz through a novel in a day or two, but in this case I haven’t been as sucked into it as I usually would be. And I could not even tell you why: I can’t pinpoint any specific negatives that are preventing me from immersing myself in it completely. I think part of the problem lies in my own poor memory as this novel has so many different characters (referred to by their French and German surnames) and so many locations, all foreign and relatively unknown. I have on occasion lost track of where I am and who I’m following as the novel jumps between different perspectives. In the book’s defence I started the read before my exams, then took a break and returned to it afterwards, so that may be why. Perhaps if I had read it all at once this could have been avoided, however I have been wading through it for a few days in a row now and it does not seem to be improving.
In no way do I think this should put anybody off the novel, though, as it is well worth a try. In theory I should love it – I don’t, but I am enjoying it nonetheless. It’s interesting. I think a lot of people would like it. Despite the issues I have encountered in the reading, I am truly intrigued by the storyline and determined to find out what happens. I can’t stress enough how impressed I am by the plot and the skill involved in the writing of ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ and I would definitely recommend it to every one of you.
N.B: My first book review!! So exciting. ALL feedback is appreciated and will be responded to – please let me know what you think I can do to improve for the next one. 🙂 – Fiona