Book Review – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Review by Lindsay Robertson follows:

Anthony Doerr has created a masterpiece. This book contains pathos persistence personalities and place. His mingling of the two tales is superb as they build to a final meeting which is both a brief moment of beauty in a bleak landscape and an all too realistic return to reality.

His construction of characters is superb and the empathy he has for both the heroine of the story in her blindness and the orphans dragged into the conflict to be in some cases dehumanised is difficult to express fully.

 I could almost see the rooms and places as he describes them and to feel the fear as these familiar surroundings changed for the worse.

 The time switching that occurs seemed to build the expectation rather that detract from the story and I found the after note of follow up stories necessary to ease me out of the story slowly.

 I have found a new Author and will devour any of his books that I find.

 I have never before given a book this high a rating In fact maybe I underrate it at 9

Review by Steve Reilly follows:

I might be wrong but I think I’m about to create Book Club history. I’m giving “All the Light We Cannot See” a 10. I’m so enamoured with this novel I’m prepared to forgive Anthony the odd untranslated foreign language phrase. I opened this book with relish. I first read this novel back in July of 2016. I remember the basic storyline but, these days, I struggle to remember all the little niceties, the nuances, the delightful turns of phrase. I was immediately rewarded with the two small prologues, Leaflets and Bombers, leading in – marvellous writing. Then the beginning of the story proper, The Girl, introduces us to the main central character, Marie-Laure, and the model of the city. Within the first four lines Anthony Doerr gets the story up on its feet and moving – no ‘wind in the trees’ time wasting descriptions for him at the opening. Then one and half pages later, The Boy, Werner Pfennig, the other central character, is similarly efficiently introduced to us and positioned in the story. Who wouldn’t want to read on? This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. All the characters were real and three dimensional. Saint-Malo, and every other place, was brought to vivid life and the descriptions were so skilfully painted (I found myself re-reading some descriptions). The flashbacks, and there were a lot of them, didn’t bother me as Anthony skilfully relocated the reader with a few precise words. The ending was generally sad and gave me the blues but then that’s life, isn’t it? Surely there has to be a movie in the works. (I sure hope they don’t stuff it up like they did with Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities”.)

An excellent piece of work.

Review by Julie Peake follows:

I really enjoyed reading this book.

The unusually short chapters, which alternated between the life of Marie-Laure and Werner Pfennig, captured my imagination.

The book follows the often harrowing life of the two from 1933 and through the Second World War to the early 2000s. Both were faced with many difficulties, Marie-Laure turned blind at the age of six and Werner was an orphan living in a dreadful mining town in Germany.

Both overcame their problems through their own fighting spirit and with help from others.

Marie-Laure’s father, the keeper of thousands of locks at the nearby Museum of Natural History, created an incredibly intricate wooden model of their neighbourhood so that she could find her own way home and be more independent. In the case of Werner his amazing ability to fix machines and radios led to him being taken to a Hitler Youth Camp then into the army where he became an expert at tracing the Resistance fighters.

Events meant that they both ended up in St Malmo during the Allied bombing of the area.

It was here that their lives collided.

The brilliant writing shows whimsy, despair, love and sadness but overall it is a very satisfying read.

The descriptions of Werner and his sister Jutta huddled over an old radio that they found listening to a science programme broadcast from France were moving, as was Marie-Laure’s counting of the objects along the paths as she navigates her way home.

When Werner heard that same voice while trapped in a theatre during a bombing raid in St Malmo many years later he determined to find the source of his earlier inspiration. As luck would have it he found Marie-Laure and saved her from death at the hands of a German Gemmologist.

The time that the two spent in the secret grotto was very moving and Werner’s untimely accidental death shortly after was very sad.

Anthony Doerr cleverly wound the story around the little carvings of the city so that the story reached a very satisfactory conclusion.

I am giving it a score of 9.

Review by Joan Perry follows:

This book is two parallel stories set during World War 11 about two children growing up in two different countries. The wonderful narration moves back and forth. At first I found jumping from one year and then back threw me for a time but you became used to the times and place between the two main characters

Werner an orphan German boy lives in a home with his sister. He is exceptionally bright and ends up winning a spot in the Hitler Youth Academy which gives him a chance to escape the grim life of working in the coal mines.

Marie Laure lives in Paris with her father who works in a Museum. She becomes blind at six. Her father builds her a model of the town enabling  her to move around. When the Germans attack Paris she and her father must flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo and to her Uncle Etienne. The father is called back to Paris but he is imprisoned and never sees her father again.

Werner and Marie eventually meet up but Werners untimely death shortly after was very sad.

The title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.

I give it a score of 8.

Review by John Peake follows:

What an enchanting allegorical story. I appreciated the short, sharp writing and small chapters which gave pace to the book. Jumping back and forth in time usually irritates but here it seemed to fit the structure. The composition was generally well crafted with no padding or superfluous detail or meandering thought bubbles.  Pity about the inclusion of American expressions instead of continental ones. The occasional anachronisms were forgivable [ball point pens, razor wire etc.] but a good editor should have corrected them. I found the bits describing the radios technically inept.

All of the characters were easily recognised and clearly drawn [both good & bad]. That a nerdy young German and a sensitive French girl should come together with such mutual understanding, gave the book its central theme of hope in adversity.

Not only were the horrors of war and the cruelty of totalitarian regimes demonstrated, but also how these impacted on individuals. The underlying message of how people behave in various circumstances gives depth to this tale. So we have not only an enjoyable and easy read, but so many thought provoking themes to consider.

I really enjoyed this book and am happy to give it an 8, [it could have been 9 but for the poor editing].