Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See

So first, let me just apologize for not posting last week when I said I thought I'd be able to.  As I said earlier, we performed our play last week and so I was busy every evening last week and worked, and there was just no time for blogging.  And over the weekend, I did stuff too, and I just kind of took a break from writing!  But I am back with my review of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE – or the most hyped historical novel of last year.  I kind of have mixed feelings about it, but I'll talk about that in the review.

Title: All The Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Publisher/Price: Scribner / $15.26 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of pages: 531

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.  (via Amazon)

My thoughts: I picked this book up in Barnes & Noble last year due to all the hype and because the beautiful cover was staring me in the face and begging me to buy it, and so I did.  It took me a while to read this book, or maybe I should say longer than usual, which is funny because lots of people said that it went pretty quickly for them due to the short chapters.  Probably about a quarter of the way through it, I started doubting the hype – yeah, the writing was good, but I didn't see what ALL of the fuss was about, because there was a lot of it.  But I continued reading it and I gradually fell more in love with the characters and the writing and the setting.  Let's talk about some of those things.

First of all, the characters.  I really enjoyed Marie-Laure's character.  By the end of the book, I felt like I could relate to her in a way I never thought I could relate to a blind girl.  But reading about her helped me understand how she felt and what it must have been like not to see, and I really applaud the author for that.  I definitely respect a book when I can connect with the characters.  I definitely enjoyed Marie-Laure's character more than Werner, and that is probably due to the fact that she is a girl and I could relate better, but also, Werner's part of the narrative was just really painful and hopeless.  The Hitler Youth was an absolutely awful thing, the way they basically turned the boys into animals, their only goal to become strong enough to fight.  I still really connected with him, though, and understood his personality by the end of the book.  Overall, I am very impressed by the characters and enjoyed them.  They will stick with me for a long time.  

Okay, now let's talk setting.  I loved the setting in this book.  I love that we were right in the thick of it – wartime France and Germany.  Those places, and more specifically, the specific cities where the characters were placed seemed very real and tangible.  I really enjoyed that.  Also, I love that Mari-Laure's father made her models of the cities they were in – that was so so cool.  I totally enjoyed her relationship with her father and basically enjoyed everything from her perspective.  

Before we move onto the writing, I want to mention a couple other things.  First of all, I really liked the subplot of the stone that was supposedly cursed and the German dude searching for it throughout the book.  I loved that and found it very interesting.  

Let's talk about the writing now.  I would say that was the most remarkable part about this book for me.  The writing was really unique and beautiful.  I loved how the chapters were so short – I don't think that detracted from the book in any way, and I think it allowed the writing to shine.  The writing was poetic and full of metaphors, but not too poetic or metaphorical so that it made the story seem surreal.  I feel like sometimes that sort of writing makes the story seem unrealistic or surreal – in fact I just read a book like that – but in this case, the writing was absolutely perfect for the story.  Poetic enough to be memorable and enhance the story, but not to detract from it.  Doerr has an amazing command of language and metaphors and that really came out in this book.  

Okay, so I've talked about the reasons I liked this book, but I also want to talk about the reason it didn't get 5 stars from me.  I honestly couldn't quite decide why I didn't absolutely love it, but I'll attempt to explain my (somewhat fuzzy) thoughts.  First, this book was so hyped that I was expecting something amazing.  But I forget that my reading preferences and my opinions of what is good are not going to line up with all the other readers out there.  Duh, I guess, but I was definitely expecting so much going into this book, and it didn't quite live up to it and I'm not exactly sure why or in what way I was disappointed.  Dunno.  Second, I was expecting the story to speak to me more than it did.  I appreciated the theme of the goodness and kindness of people even during really awful circumstances, but no big theme really stuck out to me or touched me.  And I was hoping for that, expecting that.  So honestly, when it comes to the "message" of the book or how it spoke to me, I'm kinda just like "meh."  And I know that's totally not a popular opinion, but it's how I really feel.  I was expecting to feel more with this book, other than really sad most of the way through.  When I think about it now, I could probably pull a lot more from it – maybe?  As in the title kind of makes sense if I think about it real hard, but I wanted this book to speak to me – I wanted to connect with the characters and with the story more deeply than I did.  And I'm not saying that the books I read have to have super heavy or obvious themes that you can't possibly miss – I'm not saying that.  But this book, at the time I read it just didn't even make me want to think about it or reread it for hopes of getting more out of it.  

With that said, I don't mean to say that I didn't enjoy this book or that I regret buying it or reading it, or that I won't ever read it again.  I can see myself rereading it in a year or so, and I would recommend it if someone is looking for a good historical fiction book set in WWII.  It had super interesting and new-to-me perspectives and the writing was absolutely perfect.  I enjoyed the characters and really came to empathize with them.  It was even a moving book – it was tragic and depressing and a hard look at war and its effects on young people.  But in my case, it just didn't speak to me or move me like I was hoping it would.  

Overall, a good book with exceptional writing and characters, a really good look at the history of the time, but I would probably recommend other historical novels before I recommended this one.  The writing blew me away though, and I will definitely try to pick up more of Anthony Doerr's work in the future.

And that is all for my review of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr!  Some mixed feelings, but I'm glad I read it.  Thanks for reading and I be back later this week with my last review of the month.  xo, Ella 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I got this book last week after you mentioned it in your last post! Now I can't wait to read it :)

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