I THINK I’VE DONE IT. I THINK I’VE FOUND MY BOOK OF THE YEAR (unless I find something even more spectacular in my stocking). I bought this novel months ago at the start of summer, and it’s lain forlorn on my bookshelf while I perused other, infinitely less fascinating books. Bad move. Almost as bad a move as not revising for my last four exams; but I’m not going to dwell on that.
An avalanche descends onto the city. A hurricane. Teacups drift off shelves. Paintings slip off nails. In another quarter second, the sirens are inaudible. Everything is inaudible. The roar becomes loud enough to separate membranes in the middle ear. The anti-air guns let fly their final shells. Twelve bombers fold back unharmed into the blue night. On the sixth floor of Number 4 rue Vauborel, Marie-Laure crawls beneath her bed and clamps the stone and the little model house to her chest. In the cellar beneath the Hotel of Bees, the single bulb in the ceiling winks out.
from page 16 of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
There are very few books that I’ll pull an all-nighter on – and this is one of them. I knew from the sticker on the front that this won the Pulitzer Prize, so I expected it to be pretty good. Judging by the blurb, the plot was an intriguing one, but I didn’t expect it to be so… interesting. I’m not that big a fan of war novels, but I figured that the details about the Hitler Youth and 1940s Germany would be useful for my history studies, so I decided that I would persevere regardless. BUT THERE WAS NO NEED FOR DETERMINATION. My eyes roved the pages of this (very thick) novel with fascination, and I devoured EVERY SINGLE WORD. I even read the acknowledgements.
All the Light We Cannot See is about Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who flees to Saint Malo from France (upon whom the Nazis are rapidly approaching) with her father. Intertwined with her narrative is that of Werner, a Germany boy with an uncanny talent for fixing radios, who is then recruited by the Hitler Youth and is thrown into a life destined to serve the fuhrer. The way in which their two lives are thrown together is INCREDIBLE (I’m running out of adjectives now) and beautiful, and this is a genuinely brilliantly sculpted book.
What stood out to me most (bar the spectacular substance) were Doerr’s descriptive powers in Marie-Laure’s passages. The way in which he handled her blindness and how she ‘saw’ the real world was brilliant, and I found the way in which I was transported to her situation to be seamless. The characters are also incredibly realistic; Marie-Laure is not resolved to her fate as a ‘poor blind girl’, but she is not so overpoweringly strong to be superhuman – sometimes she lets slip, and her emotions are seen bubbling underneath her composure. Werner is also a wonderful character; his battles with his inner demons (the detrimental human implications of his actions versus orders from above) are a resounding theme, and yet is a particularly important one in this context of the Hitler Youth.
Oh, and did I mention that there’s an infamous diamond – mysteriously dubbed the ‘Sea of Flames’ – that’s also thrown into the plot?
FIVE STARS. I absolutely loved this novel (could you tell?), and I’m looking forward to reading more of Doerr’s work. The description is perfect, the characters are perfect. It’s perfect. No wonder it won the Pulitzer. So run – RUN – to your nearest book store and pick up a copy. You won’t regret (although you may be weeping on Christmas Day).
If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts! (and I hope y’all have a wonderful Christmas x x )