Review: All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See Book CoverAll 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.

Quotables:

“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

2.5/5

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! 

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29 comments

  1. 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. 😐

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    1. Definitely a personal opinion, Cait, because I have read reviews from people who absolutely ADORED this book! There were a few problems I had with it and it made it a difficult read for me, but I can see why others may really enjoy it if they aren’t irked by the same things I am, if that makes sense?! Lol R x

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  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! 🙂

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    1. Hey Holly, thanks for commenting! Oh I know you did, and your review was definitely one the things that inspired me to keep going, but I just didn’t/couldn’t connect with it. Though your review was also one of the reasons I made sure I emphasised in my review that it’s a really personal thing that I didn’t like it so much, because I know other people (like you) LOVED it, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t put people off based on my opinions alone. Some of the writing was quite beautiful, but on the opposite side to you too I didn’t like the over-description of the small stuff. This is one of the things I love about the online community though – it’s great when we have different opinions and we aren’t all fangirling over the same things! R x

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    1. Hi, thanks for commenting! I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but unfortunately it got to the point where I was either going to speed read the last half to find out what happened, or put it down and not finish it altogether because I wasn’t enjoying it. Ultimately, I sped read it because I really wanted to see what happened when our two main characters finally met, and that was a massive disappointment for me. The novel was anti-climatic in a way I wasn’t expecting. However, I know it’s a popular read with many others and would still encourage people to try it. It just wasn’t for me 🙂

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  3. 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.

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    1. I’m so glad someone feels the same as me, Gwen. For a long time I felt that I just didn’t “get it” – this is an award-winning novel, literary etc. I felt that maybe the issue was with me rather than the text, but I stayed true to my first impressions – while I did enjoy the novel at the start, the pacing, plot and execution failed to live up to expectations for me! Thanks for commenting! R x

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  4. 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.

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    1. Hi Sara, thanks for commenting! Never too late to join the party 🙂

      That’s an excellent description – deceiving – I was expecting SO much more from their meeting, it felt that the whole point of the book was the build-up to this pivotal moment, and what would happen when they finally met. I think whoever blurbed this set the reader up for disappointment. I did wonder if there was some sort of underlying message in how this was done, but to be honest, I rarely want that from my books, I just want a story I can fall in love with. Maybe this it too literary for my tastes, maybe if it was the same story, but written for the commercial/mainstream market I would have loved it more. Have you read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah? Now THAT is a story to fall in love with!

      There definitely were elements of this read I enjoyed too – I liked getting to know the main characters from their childhoods, and I loved the unique POV Werner had, as I rarely see/read stories from the POV of a Nazi, and what I liked even more is that although he is a member of the “evil” side, he was so, so likeable as a character. The precision and description though is one thing that didn’t work for me, I felt it was at times too verbose, that the intention of the novel was to win a literary prize rather than tell the story, which ultimately effected the pacing and flow of the text.

      I was the same with setting the book down, at one point I thought I wasn’t going to bother finishing it at all, and that ending. I found myself confused and had to read it more than once to figure out what was going on and rationalise why it ended in that manner. It all seemed so… pointless.

      I’m so pleased you loved this book. I don’t regret reading it, but I doubt I’ll be picking it up for a reread. If you enjoy WW2 fiction, please do check out The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, or The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. I found them both so much more impactful. R x

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      1. 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.

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      2. Hi Daphne, thanks for commenting! I’m glad my review has found others who agree with me, as I definitely felt like a black sheep for the longest time. The Nightingale is one of my favourite books of 2015, I would highly recommend it over All The Light We Cannot See, such a moving story. R x

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  5. 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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    1. Hi, thank you for your comment!

      We definitely agree on the biggest issues we had with the book – the time Marie and Werner spent together, when I realised that was it, I could have lunged the book at the wall! I suppose on a deeper level, it’s tragedy is that that may be how it would happen in real life due to the unfairness and realities of war, but I went into this book expecting a beautiful and emotional rollercoaster, and felt cheated by the lack of time the two main characters spent together. Have you read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah? It is absolutely fabulous WW2 fiction, which isn’t rainbows and butterflies in any way, and has its own tragedies, but is ultimately fantastically written and a much more satisfying read. I’d HIGHLY recommend it! R xx

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