Wednesday, 4 November 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

When Germany occupies France, blind Marie-Laure and her father must flee Paris to the relative safety of the walled city of Saint Malo. Her father, in the employ of the Natural History Museum, takes with him what might be the museum’s most valuable stone. Meanwhile in a German orphanage, men from the Party take note of Werner’s talents with radios; a much needed skill in the war to come. Sent off to a high profile school to be shaped into instruments of the Reich, Werner does his best to be the same boy his sister once loved.

All the Light We Cannot See has received bundles of praise and a Pulitzer Prize so I’ve been left wondering if I missed the point. With the exception of the last 100 or so pages, I felt the prose was unemotional and the characters were rather romanticised.

Marie-Laure loses her sight aged just six. It didn’t portray any of the frustration you would expect of a young child going blind and her father is so perfectly patient with her. By nine years old she is a proficient braille reader, reading Jules Verne, imagining worlds she will never see. During her childhood, war breaks out across Europe and France is occupied. Yet she still seems to lead a mostly privileged lifestyle, even if she must stay indoors.

Marie-Laure’s story just didn’t seem to go anywhere. The chapters are short and alternate mostly between her and Werner’s stories, which had the very tenuous link of radios. For the most part, I felt like I was reading two different stories, constantly being torn away before I could connect with either.

Understandably, Werner is something of a spectator to his life, an orphan with no choice to follow the desires of the state. A state whose ideals he’s not sure he believes in. He stands by while awful things are done, so his portion of the story seems distanced. There are glimpses of a boy who cares, but it takes him time to do anything noteworthy.

The plot regarding the mysterious and valuable diamond might have been more enjoyable in a short novel, but I’m not sure it bound together the narratives. There’s a German on the hunt for it, who becomes obsessed, maybe believing in its curse. Not to forget an immensely talented forger who can make faultless copies of a rather unique gemstone.

There’s a completely unnecessary rape scene. It does nothing to further the plot or characters, in fact it’s minor characters that are involved and it isn’t revisited. It was a bit like the author thought he hadn’t got round to mentioning how awful the Russians were in this war, so let’s throw in a rape to show that.

It’s all just a bit meandering and went on far too long. There’s better examples of WWII novels and portrayals of blind characters out there. I spent ages being annoyed by the use of the term terrorist, which seemed modern and out of place. However I did look it up, and will let Anthony off, as it was originally coined during the French Revolution, so it is possible it was commonly used in France during the war.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights




Book Source: Purchased

5 comments:

  1. I'm one of those in the minority who agree with you about this book. I found it too long, and and boring to keep my interest. I did finish it, but only gave it two stars. A book that takes place during the same time period that I loved was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. So much more interesting, at least to me.

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  2. At first you had me thinking I might like this piece of historical fiction, which I usually avoid on principle, but then you turned against the book. Doesn't this author usually write about the American West? Is this book a departure for him?

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    1. I haven't read anything else by him. I read a bit more about the Pulitzer Prize too and it's surprising this won as it's supposed to be for fiction which makes a commentary on American issues. Apart from America bombed Saint Malo...

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    2. I haven't read anything else by him. I read a bit more about the Pulitzer Prize too and it's surprising this won as it's supposed to be for fiction which makes a commentary on American issues. Apart from America bombed Saint Malo...

      Delete
  3. You're not alone. I wasn't a fan of this one either. It just didn't engage me. I think I've read far too many books set in this time period that they have to be really outstanding to grab my attention. This wasn't. :-(

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