Wednesday, May 27, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Summary:  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 Marie-Laure 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.
 (Summary and Image from

Review: Fad books are tricky little beasts to review.  On the one hand, if you loved the book like so many, you run the risk of your review sounding like every other piece out there.  If, on the other hand, you didn't like the review, you run the risk of not only sounding like either an uncultured swine, a sourpuss, a snob, or angered fans with torches and pitchforks knocking down the door of your blog!

Excuse me while I go release our moat alligators.

Let me start by saying this:  Anthony Doerr is a talented author with a very gripping style.  He is certainly capable.  I wonder, however, if this book was a little too ambitious for his experience of writing, or if it just wasn't as well executed or edited as it ought to be.  Stories with two different protagonists are tricky, especially when the perspective jumps between the two.  But then when the author throws in time jumps, leaping between characters and timelines, it takes a master to maintain a seamless story.  I don't feel like that occurred here.   The big reveal is partially revealed at an earlier point, as the later story line is progressing faster than the flashback storyline.  So when I got to the BIG REVEAl that should have had me clutching my pearls, I shrugged a shoulder.  It wasn't as gripping as I had wished.  Not to mention that it took me a few jumps to get the hang of how Doerr differentiates between his characters' perspectives and their timelines.  (Note: he doesn't really.  Keep sharp.)

The story is sweet.  It's tragic and nostalgic. Doerr presents it in such a passive, assuring voice that I can understand why so many readers are raving about this book.  But could it be more?  Yes.  I believe it could.  Am I sorry I read it?  No, he is an author to keep an eye on.  Is it my favorite book of the year? No, I personally believe it's a little overhyped.

Rating:  Two stars

For the Sensitive reader:  One of the protagonists spends an amount of time in a Hitler Youth school, with all the vicious brutality that goes along with it.  There are a few soldiers with filthy minds and mouths.  There is also a scene where one woman and four girls are raped by invading Soviets.  That scene in particular added nothing to the story at all and may have sullied my view of the book.  I found it so unnecessary, I could have happily put the book down and washed my hands of the whole darn thing right then - at the apex of action.


Heather said...

I agree with you 100%!! I did not love this book. Here is what I wrote on my Goodreads about it: "I had a hard time choosing a rating for this book. At times it was a 5 star book; at times it was a 2 star book. Ultimately, I found myself glad to be through with it. There are definitely moments of brilliant writing, but also some slow writing, and also some self-indulgent writing. The characters were fantastic, memorable, and well-developed. I thought Werner's character flaws were an important part of the book and were explored in an effective yet heart-breaking way. The time shifts in the plot were frequently confusing, especially in the early chapters of the book before I was able to get a good feel for how the author was approaching the shifts. Generally a clean read, except for a handful of obscenities and a completely unnecessary implication of a gang rape. I don't think I would recommend this book, despite the awards it has received. I think the bad outweighs the good for this one unfortunately."

Heather said...

P.S. You are spot on about the climax being strangely anticlimactic and oddly placed in the book!

Unknown said...

Sounds like a really advanced book.. I like that you mentioned the things for any sensitive readers(like me) and it seems that this book has a lot of things going on since it's with two protagonists.. Your review is great by the way! :)


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