Author: Anthony Doerr
Pages: 544 (Paperback)
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Source: I bought this book myself
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“All The Light We Cannot See”, by Anthony Doerr, follows the story of Werner, a German orphan who dreams of becoming a scientist and escaping the horror of the mines that took his father, and Marie-Laure, a French girl that became blind when she was six-years-old and that learned her way around Paris by studying a wooden model of her neighbourhood, built by her father.
In the synopsis at the back of the book it says “a future which draws her (Marie-Laure) ever closer to Werner”. Additionally the third chapter in the book is called “The Girl” and talks about Marie-Laure, while the fourth is named “The Boy” and introduces Werner. What would you expect? A beautiful romance between a German soldier and a blind, French girl who’s town had been invaded. SPOILERS AHEAD: forget the happy-ever-after.
This book made me angry, it really did. It was on page 483 – yes, I can tell you the exact page – that I felt like hurling the book out of the window. Why? Because “All The Light We Cannot See” talks about reality. There is no happy-ever-after in wars, there is only fear, death and destruction. My edition had 530 pages, but Werner and Marie-Laure only truly meet on page 467. That is a hell of a lot of time building up to this moment. I was all hopeful that this was finally it, the romance was here, it was all so beautiful and then my heart was suddenly crushed. And that is what war does… At first I felt betrayed by the writer, but I blame myself for expecting another sloppy, hopeful war romance. We, as readers, always crave for happy endings, but that is what’s so great about “All The Light We Cannot See” – it doesn’t give you what you want, but the cruel, raw reality. What happened to Frederic broke my heart and what happened to Werner destroyed my soul, especially because he was my favourite character.
One thing I didn’t like about this book: the long, long descriptions, especially when writing in Marie-Laure’s point of view. As she was blind, she focused a lot on smells and noises, but sometimes the descriptions were absolutely useless and were just there to fill another half-page. Another thing that annoyed me was the enumerations. The characters were always counting heartbeats or steps or minutes. This was recurring and eventually I was so tired of it I had to put the book down for a while. I also don’t understand why Anthony Doerr decided to have flash-forwards and flash-backwards. I actually would have preferred if it was all in chronological order, but I guess that by giving a sneak peek of what was going to happen in the future, he spiced up the curiosity in the reader.
However, I did like the fact that chapters alternated between Werner and Marie-Laure so that you weren’t too long without one character. The fact that we watch their stories unfold side by side and discover that they already knew each other without knowing each other (this will make sense when you read the book, trust me :p) feels like they were destined to meet from the start. You root for this one moment when they meet and that makes it worth the 466 pages before that. Additionally, there is a magical element in this book which seemed a bit out of place taking into account the realism of the rest of the story, but it did add some interest to the book, especially because the reader is left to wonder if there was really any magic in it.
The book is actually written in present tense, which I thought would drive me crazy – it has happened in other books – but it didn’t. “All The Light We Cannot See” is beautifully written and the language flows so it didn’t bother me at all.
I highly recommend “All The Light We Cannot See” – it is heart-breaking and annoying but totally worth it. I wouldn’t describe it as “a page-turner” like Guardian did because I did grow bored in some parts, but for those who like historical fiction this is certainly a most-read. The last chapter was especially touching because it is set in 2014 and indirectly compares the young generation of nowadays with the ones that lived through WW2. Now, children play war games in the computer where their characters are killed, “But I can always begin again”, while the people that died in WW2 never had a chance of getting their lives back. “All The Light We Cannot See” masterfully depicts the injustice and futility of war, how armies accomplish nothing but the destruction of what is good and innocent.