All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published May 2014 by Scribner.
Read: January 2015
Genre: Adult/Literary/Historical Fiction
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks. When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
I don’t know what went wrong here. I really don’t. I LOVE WW2 fiction, and I love nothing more than original WW2 fiction – and the premise for this novel was original, it was intriguing, and at times it was beautifully written, but for some reason it just didn’t click with me. I’m going to use this review to try and figure out why.
First of all, I LOVE this book cover. I wanted to own this book so bad, but I’m trying to contain my spending in 2015 and I couldn’t find a good enough price for this, so I checked OverDrive and luckily my local library had an eBook available. Unfortunately, this is one instance when I’m glad I didn’t buy the book… Still love that cover though.
OK, first of all I felt that although the writing was beautiful at times, at other times it felt quite self-indulgent. To me, there is a difference between beautiful writing and overly-flowery writing that just isn’t necessary, and this book tiptoed the line between the two, often falling into the latter. This is a character driven novel that is quite slow paced and drawn out. In previous years, I’ve read novels like this, and made the assumption that character driven novels just aren’t for me. However, in 2014 I read Life After Life, which is WW2 based. character driven and slower paced, and I loved it. So I know it isn’t that. I think it’s just a case of personal preference and how a story is handled.
My second issue is that I adored the idea of two very different characters on opposite sides of the war, who we watch growing up, coming together as their stories merge – but the reality of how it was executed felt quite lacking and was massively disappointing for me. I was eagerly anticipating this merge for most of the novel, and when it finally happened it was fleeting and unsatisfying.
I enjoyed the first half of this book, and although there came a time when I actually considered DNFing it, I persevered because I’d heard so many good reviews. Eventually, I ended up speed-reading the second half so that I could get the gist of what happened in the story without having to trudge through the wordy detail. By the end, I felt I barely knew the characters at all. I’m confused over how to rate this read. I know this will appeal to others much more than me, it isn’t necessarily that I feel it’s badly written, it just wasn’t for me.
“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”
“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”
“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”
“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
Have you read All The Light We Cannot See? Did you love it? Or are you in the minority that thinks like me? Let me know in the comments!