Welcome to this month’s book review of the ‘grown-up’ variety. I’ve read quite a few books and seen a few movies set in World War II lately, and thought I wouldn’t be able to get into another one.
I was wrong. And here’s why.
All the Light We Cannot See / Anthony Doerr
(Fourth Estate, 2014)
All the Light We Cannot See is the tale of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, the daughter of a locksmith who grows up in France in the 1930s. Blind by the age of six, she learns to navigate with a miniature of her neighbourhood, built by her father.
It is also the tale of Werner Pfennig, the snowy-blonde, blue-eyed orphan who grows up in Germany at the same time. He is determined not to share the fate of his father, who died in a mine, so accepts a position at an elite military academy to build his engineering skills.
It is the tale of Marie-Laure, and the tale of Werner Pfennig, and the tale of right and wrong and everything in between. In fact, it is the tale of everything that looks right but might be wrong, and everything that looks wrong but might be right.
This book. I’ve got to be honest; it wasn’t love at first sight. It took some getting into. I was approaching the 200-page mark (of 530) before the words stopped feeling a little overdone.
But then the strength of the story started to sink right into me. I’d say that I sunk into the story, but it was definitely the other way around – I couldn’t put it down, yet read it as slowly as I possibly could so that I could savour the journey.
After all, you can only read a book for the first time once.
All the Light We Cannot See makes you feel without making you feel sick from too much feeling. It silences the voice in your head that wants to moralise and shout at certain characters, and compels you to simply watch events unfold. Even as the knot in your chest tightens.
It might take some getting into, but you’ll be glad you kept it up. So very glad.
- There are, he assures her, no such things as curses. There is luck, maybe, bad or good. A slight inclination of each day toward success or failure. But no curses.
- “Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your own life.”
- …she is angry. At Etienne for doing so little, at Madame Manec for doing so much, at her father for not being here to help her understand his absence.
- If only life were like a Jules Verne novel, thinks Marie-Laure, and you could page ahead when you most needed to, and learn what would happen.
- He is average-sized and prematurely gray, but by some contrivance of carriage and posture, he makes the men who stand before him feel smaller.
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. And if, like a few friends of mine, you’ve been tossing up between this and The Narrow Road to the Deep North because you don’t want to read too many World War II books, forget it. The tossing up, I mean. I’ve read them both, and I honestly can’t decide which to recommend more.
Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? What did you think?
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