Review: All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See Book Cover

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published May 2014 by Scribner.

Read: January 2015
Genre: Adult/Literary/Historical Fiction
Source: Library
#Pages: 448
Get It Now: Wordery

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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.

The Review

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?”

The Rating


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! 

About Rachel

Avid reader & #bookblogger. Lover of all things business. A fan of drinks & dancing. Ever optimistic. Feminist.

31 Responses

  1. Cait

    Ugh, that is SO disappointing! I hadn’t heard of this and I was reading that blurb and ohhh I fell in love! I really want to try this one, though I will keep cautiously low expectations. Boo that it was a let down and not well executed. 😐


  2. I LOVED this book, but you make some really valid points so I totally understand where you’re coming from! The meeting between Marie-Laure and Werner was really different from how I initially expected it to be, but I guess I read it so fast that I didn’t really have a lot of time to build up high expectations about it. I think the thing that made me love this novel so much is the writing, because I absolutely adored it! To me, it was so beautiful and made even the tiny details important. Anyways, great review! 🙂


  3. Gwen

    I loved much of the writing, but in the end I found myself bored with the story. It dragged on a bit, and I felt lost at times because of the “back and forth” nature of the story. So, I didn’t finish. I was listening to a library copy on CD, and someone else is waiting for it. After reading some of the reviews of people who did not find this book completely wonderful, I feel better about myself and my decision to abandon the book.


  4. Sara

    Not sure if I’m a little late to the party… But is it just me or is the description of the book a little deceiving? For some unknown reason I seem to have been under the impression there was going to be more of a romance between Werner and Marie. When their two stories finally converged I thought it was magic – the way he could see her yet she could not see him and in that moment he found love within her. But their time together was so devastatingly short. I was simply crushed by the fact that they spent less than a day together. But then again, maybe there is some sort of simplistic beauty to that? I have yet to figure that out.

    But, I really did love the story – and the character development even more. You got to know the characters in the little hints dropped throughout the plot. You discovered who Marie and Werner were by their thoughts and their feelings. And every little thing was so precise and so descriptive that by the end of the story, I felt like someone real had passed. Werner was truthfully my favorite character – an image of the struggle to be good when evil is everywhere. In fact, he faced the dilemma of not even knowing what was truly good. In my opinion, Marie opened his eyes and she was the one who made it clear. I had to set the book down for a while due to the fact his death didn’t sit well with me. I felt it was such a sad way to die – to be blasted to death. He deserved something so much better. A life, perhaps?

    Overall, it was beautiful and devastating and lovely and haunting. It’s one of those books you never forget.


      1. Daphne Palliser

        I totally agree with your view of this book.I thought there must be something wrong with me that I didn’t love it.I agree that The Nightingale and The Storyteller were better or at least more readable for me.


  5. […] All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Be Safe I Love You bu Cara Hoffman, and Paper Towns by John Green, are all books I was really looking forward to reading, that had received some great reviews, and that I felt disappointed by. […]


  6. I just finished this book. A friend suggested it to me as a great example of third person, present tense writing. You rarely see a well received book like this. But anyway, if someone else thought they were late to the party in July last year, I’m well overdue.

    There were lots of things I loved about this book, many I didn’t. The timeline threw me many a time. Perhaps I didn’t pay close attention, but I’d have to page back and forth trying to figure out what I missed if it flipped on me all of a sudden.

    I’d say my biggest issue was with the shortness of time between Marie and Werner. It was a huge build up for a section that took me 5 minutes to finish reading through. Then the tragic death of Werner. The way his sister and the other girls were raped. In many ways, the ending was very disappointing and depressing.

    Yes, I know there were such horrors during that war…those and many others, but perhaps it’s the fact that reading is escapism for me and in my escapes, I don’t relish endings that leave me feeling like I was cheated. There was very little happiness at all, for any of the characters. Which I get to a degree. When one lives through something like that, it affects everything for your entire life. But there was nothing. Marie never found her father. Werner died. Volkheimer survives the war, but is haunted by it, never marries, never has children. Jutte is married with a child, yet the past haunts her. It was torture for her to open her brother’s knapsack. In the end, not one of the characters was truly happy, though Marie probably was satisfied, I don’t get the feeling she was truly happy. And to me, that’s the most tragic thing of the whole book.


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