Synopsis: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Pub Date: 23rd April 2015
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
Recently I’ve realised different books have different voices; a tone that is unique to the author or the story. Something more than a writing style – it is the voice I hear when I read the words.
For All the Light We Cannot See, the voice in my head is quiet, but intense. A contralto, it doesn’t need to shout to grab your attention. It’s gentle but emotional, thoughtful and powerful. I absolutely loved it.
The best thing about the novel was characters; alternating between two protagonists, Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a young German private, you hear the story of WW2 from two more-or-less innocent minds. The naivity in a child’s depiction of the war is always difficult to read, but it was especially powerful in Doerr’s writing.
Supporting characters were equally beautifully dealt with; I fell completely in love with Etienne and Volkheimer. With a lot of novels, these characters are treated as secondary and unimportant. Doerr, however, gives as much care to his supporting characters as his protagonists, each is given the space to grow and become something more.
“I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.”
The short, well-crafted scenes is what made this quiet, elegant book a page-turner. The prose jumps between years and I found myself wanting to race ahead to see whether Marie-Laure and Warner meet, but also slowing down to enjoy the decadent writing.
Despite enjoying the book immensely, I had to knock off a star. The plot drastically fell short at the last hurdle; I felt a little out of what could have been an incredible ending. But this isn’t your average wartime love story; it is bittersweet, haunting – and so much better.