4.5 stars out of 5 (5 on Goodreads)
‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’
I picked up this book in my favourite bookshop (Book Cycle in Exeter), having seen it all over Instagram in previous months. I had no idea what to expect other than that which was written on the blurb, and other bookstagram users telling me that it was beautiful – so my hopes were high!
‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is set during World War Two in mainland Europe, and is divided between the stories of: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a talented German boy; and Von Rumbel, a Nazi whose time is running out.
Marie-Laure is a wonderful character through whom Doerr can play with the reader’s senses. Marie-Laure cannot rely on her sight to tell her about the world, so the reader is instead given descriptions of smells, sounds and textures, making for very sensory reading. The writing of this book is rich and descriptive and therefore beautiful to savour as you read.
The most outstanding aspect of this book for me was the structure and how time was handled. I think the easiest way to explain it is to describe it as a running race: there are two main timelines, the earlier one eventually catching up with the later one, with some later epilogue-style chapters. I found this so effective as Doerr really teases the reader – we know what’s coming but not how the characters will get to this position. Clever stuff. The last 100 pages or so (this book is somewhat hefty at 530 pages) are thrilling and worth the somewhat slow-paced previous 400 or so. The earlier slow pace is why I knocked off half a star – for the majority of the book I wasn’t gripped. I was interested enough to read on, but it dragged a little before the climax.
I have to say that I haven’t read another book that deals as honestly with war as this one (except perhaps Markus Zuzak’s ‘The Book Thief’, which has some similarities with Doerr’s novel). Personally I come from a family that went through atrocious things in Germany in the 1940s, so I was glad to see that not only was Nazism dealt with from an outsider’s perspective of Marie-Laure, but also from the insider’s perspective of Hitler Youth recruit Werner. I think the treatment of sensitive issues was perfectly done and I learned a lot about occupied France, though I already knew a fair amount about 1940s Germany as my family lived through it. An incident with the Russian men was particularly personally striking. I was genuinely moved to tears near the end of the novel, and it takes quite a lot for me to do that!
I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy WWII fiction such as ‘The Book Thief’, or those who enjoy lengthier, deeper novels.
4.5 stars out of 5
Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts on ‘All The Light We Cannot See’!