The prose is magical, the plot is enrapturing and the structure is brilliant. ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is, in a word, flawless. A deserved winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
ISBN 10: 0007548680
Imprint: Fourth Estate
RRP: $29.99 AUD
What I say:
I am almost reluctant to write about this book for fear I will not do it justice.
I am hesitant to say it is a book about World War II, for it is neither polemical nor glorifying of war.
I hate to say that the plot revolves around a magic diamond, for that makes it sound silly, which it isn’t.
I’m reluctant to disclose that the hero and heroine are teenagers, because you might think (mistakenly) it’s a children’s book.
Whatever I say about All the Light We Cannot See, it won’t be enough. But I must say something, however inadequate, in praise of this book because it is a book that deserves to be read. By everyone.
All the Light We Cannot See is an immersive experience. Doerr’s writing is cinematic. He writes in the present tense; we are in the action as it happens, not looking forward, not looking back but there, in it, all the way. But not only do we see what happens, Doerr conveys how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes. He achieves that most difficult of writerly challenges – a sense of how a thing feels.
Perhaps it helps that his heroine, Marie-Laure, is blind, for it has sharpened the writing to consider all that cannot be seen:
‘To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface plans disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars, crows hopping from pile to pile, flies landing on corpses in ditches.’
While the writing constantly soars in a surprising and wonderful realm, the story itself swoops and dives, maintaining terrific tension across its 544 pages. There is no saggy middle here, for the book dives back and forth in time.
In all, the book spans a 70 year time frame. It is epic, in the true sense of the word.
So yes – people die. Yes – it is set against a war backdrop. Yes – there are Nazis. But this is actually an incredibly hopeful book, which focuses on the ingenuity of the human mind and the resilience of its spirit.
What the back cover says:
A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II, from the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.
Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.
At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.
Anthony Doerr is the author of five books,The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome,Memory Wall and now All the Light We Cannot See.
Doerr’s short fiction has won three O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction.
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