Browsing around for my next reading venture, I noticed a promotional display for the novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Continuing on with the search, I eventually went back to it and saw that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner with good reviews, so I decided to delve into it!
It seems that when you read a book that has been highly praised, it never quite lives up to its billing. Could it be that there is a tendency to build up expectations too high?
I did enjoy this read, however, but can’t put my finger on exactly why. It just seemed to pull me in.
It has all of the characteristics of a work of historical fiction with dates and locations of actual events and key figures. I even learned a thing or two from it. For example, I was not even remotely familiar with the coastal city of St. Malo or it’s significance during the Normandy invasion.
There are basically two storylines that merge together with one centering on the LeBlanc family in Paris, and the other being that of Werner and Jutta Pfenning in Essen. Before the onset of the war, there is only a subtle connection between the two via the airwaves. But as the Nazi war machine commences its campaign of evil domination, terror, and oppression, the plots begin to fuse into a common one.
Doerr’s manner of writing brings his characters to life. The central character, the blind and sensual Marie Laure LeBlanc, brought to mind the story of Anne Frank. The other, Werner Pfenning, possessed a depth of conscientiousness that proved vital to the outcome.
The passages relating to the French Resistance were reminiscent of Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale, while the “harboring” of “fugitives” hunted by the Gestapo evoked similarities to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
The author’s many uses of descriptive metaphor bring the senses alive as well, a style of writing that effectively captures the reader. However, Doerr’s technique of skipping around the timeline of the story is more than a little disconcerting and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. But I guess, if it works, it works!
As for the title, there is more than one aspect it could allude to; the unseen by Marie Laure due to her blindness but described by Jules Verne in his vision of the future, the light that is created in the mind as related to Werner by Dr. Hauptmann while at Schulpforta, the light of hope that kept Werner and Volkheimer alive while entombed in total darkness under tons of rubble, or perhaps it signifies the mythical light emitted from the depths of the “Sea of Flames”. Could the “light we cannot see” be the radio waves traveling through the ether that draw Marie Laure and Werner?
The most direct correlation is the scratchy radio message listened to by the young Werner and Jutta with the velvety voice of a Frenchman –
“The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”
All in all, All the Light We Cannot See was very intriguing and the pages went rather quickly.
If ever a movie was to be made based on this novel, which I’m fairly sure there will be, it should be relatively simple to create the scenery, as Anthony Doerr has already done that!