Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
September 11, 2017
'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. 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 neighbourhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorise 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 wall. 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 specialised 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.’
Marie-Laure is six years old when the novel begins in Paris in 1934. She lives with her Father, who is actually one of my favourite characters in the novel. He is everything to Marie-Laure and she is everything to him, they make the perfect duo and I adored their relationship. One of my favourite dynamics of the novel was this relationship. Marie-Laure's father is also the creator of 3D puzzles and builds miniatures of the streets and houses of Paris, in order to teach blind Marie-Laure how to navigate the city. Furthermore, her love for books and reading them in braille enabled me to connect me with Marie just that bit more. Her love of the classic stories within the novel was endearing and I love to read about a character that loves books as much as me.
Werner’s story is completely different to Marie-Laure’s but just as interesting. Werner’s talent in radio’s and electrics brings him to the attention of the Nazi’s. Sent to a national school, Werner learns of friendship and the brutality of war amongst a school setting. The chapters on Werner's school experience and who he encounters, as well as the fate of his friend Frederick, who you can’t not love, are some of the best in the book.
All the Light We Cannot See is a genuine wonder of a book. I turned the last page and finished the physical book, but realised the story would be with me a lot longer. A page-turning, all-encompassing novel that beautifully demonstrates the relationships that us as humans can form under circumstances.
My one criticism with the novel is the descriptive nature. Whilst I enjoy the lyricism and whimsy of this descriptive nature, I think it added to the romanticism of Paris before the war and then the harsh brutalities and danger of the war. I felt it immersed me further into Marie’s world. However I can see why some might find it too much or have a problem with it. For instance 'nights are luminous and starlit', and the “fields entombed with hedges”. I personally didn’t find this a problem, I adored it, it is just something I have picked up on, and think others might not like.
The attention to detail is unparalleled, you read the novel always wanting to know what happens next, the ending is bittersweet but fulfilling. A wonderful novel and I can’t recommend it enough to everyone.