Thursday, 28 May 2015

All The Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 531
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: May 6, 2014
First Line: "At dusk they pour from the sky."

Book Description from GoodReadsMarie-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.

My Review:  All The Light We Cannot See has been the talk of the literary town.  It's the darling of critics, has gotten a lot of buzz and even won the Pulitzer Prize.  It's got a lot going for it.  Unfortunately I'm not on the same wavelength as the Pulitzer prize people (and many other readers) because this highly acclaimed novel just didn't live up to my expectations.  

I'm a huge reader of WWII fiction and have read some real gems in the past - The Paris Architect, The Storyteller, The Nightingale, Wolfsangel, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas to name just a few.  It's a favourite genre of mine so I expect a lot of emotion, action and character development.  All The Light We Cannot See introduces some unique characters (a Nazi youth and a blind French girl) and has some very lyrical writing and descriptions of France, Germany and the era.  The first half of the book was very enjoyable but then the pace slowed dramatically and continued at that pace for the remainder of the book.

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't that I didn't like the book -- I just didn't love it and feel like it will be one of those books that won't stay with me long.  I think that where the book started to lose me was around the half way point when pace petered out and the character development became stagnant.  The reader is told a lot about what's happening to these two teens but we're not privy to their inner feelings very much.  

In the beginning I really felt for Werner as he's forced into the Nazi Youth training program.  But you'd think that after Werner witnesses a truly horrific incident involving someone he liked that it would have changed him.  Forced him to view the way the Nazi's run things differently.  Sure, he didn't like what he saw but it also didn't seem to change his path in life or even fundamentally change him as a person.  He's a young man who loves working with mechanical things and he doesn't really give any thought about how what he does leads to the death of others.  He felt very apathetic with his head stuck in a transistor radio instead of taking the time to look up and see what was going on around him and (in a some part) how his skill aids the Nazis.  He felt very juvenile throughout the book (I know that he's a teenage boy) but you'd think that the war would have matured him more than the reader witnessed.

Marie-Laure suffered a similar fate.  It was her character that enticed me to read the book but overall the reader is only privy to reading what happens to her, not how she really feels about things. I had a hard time relating to her when I only had these very short chapters to connect with her before the story switched back to Werner's point of view.

Overall, this was just an okay read for me.  There wasn't a lot of action, tension or even emotion that you'd expect from a WWII novel.  With the addition of the magical stone treasure hunt story line and two innocent children getting wrapped up in the fray, All The Light We Cannot See seemed to have a much more juvenile, young adult feel to it.  I kept at it hoping for a big climactic moment but I was left feeling that their converging stories never really came together in the end.  Or at least not as climactic as I was expecting after slogging through a rather slow last half of the book.  Frustratingly, the ending was very weak, predictable and not very believable.  The book is set during a very sensitive and horrific time but doesn't get to the nitty gritty nor the depth of emotion of that time than I was expecting.

My Rating: 3/5 stars


Janine K said...

Interesting review! I am usually put off by award winning novels, as I have found in the past that although the writing may be "beautiful" etc. etc. they are downright boring, and I don't care whether books are famous or not, I just relish a good story that keeps you engaged from beginning to end.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Sadly, I agree, Janine. Sometimes they are a little too dry for my tastes but I do adore a great, gripping read. Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way.

Top rated Real Estate Horseshoe Bay said...

I love historical fiction, especially about World War II. This book ranks among the best I've ever read. The story is compelling and the writing is lovely. I felt as though I really knew the characters. I've been telling all my friends to read it. I was haunted for days after I finished it (in the wee hours of the morning because I couldn't put it down). I bought it because Kate Morton suggested it on her Facebook page. Since she is one of my favorite authors, I knew I would like it. I highly recommend this book.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

That is what I love about books. They touch people and affect them in such different ways. I'm happy that you enjoyed this book. I love it when you keep thinking about a book and its character long after you've put the book down.

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