I received All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for my birthday last year and put off reading it for quite a while. I originally asked for it because I’d heard of its similarities to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which happens to be my all time favourite book. I was excited to read it, but at the same time, didn’t want it to ruin The Book Thief for me by being too similar.
Fortunately, I didn’t think it was similar at all. The only comparisons are the main characters both being young girls, set during World War Two, and the writing being beautiful. In fact, everything about this book is beautiful, I mean just look at the cover. I don’t think this picture quite captures it, but the cover is made out of a material that almost sparkles in the light.
This book tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who is forced to flee Paris after the Nazis invade, moving in with her uncle in the seaside town of Saint-Malo; and Werner, a German orphan who has a knack for fixing and building radios. He eventually becomes key to Nazi intelligence and finds himself invading Saint-Malo. Underneath all of this, is the mystery of the valuable jewel that Marie-Laure’s father has been trusted to protect.
The beauty of this book lies in its imagery. As Marie-Laure is blind, her father builds her a scale model of Saint-Malo, which she studies in great detail in order to find her way around town independently. The father-daughter relationship here is wonderful; we really understand how much they depend on each other.
The opposite is true for Werner, who’s only family is a younger sister. His actions are not lead by family emotions, he simply does what is right for him. I think this is what makes the book such a good one; the characters are so different, but are somehow drawn together.
It’s so difficult to write a detailed review here, because it’s almost impossible to convey the beauty of language and imagery without simply quoting the book itself; something I’m not inclined to do. I’m not sure why, but I’m not the kind of person who easily remembers quotes, or has favourite quotes. I hate the section on social media profiles where it asks you to list your favourite quotes. But, back on topic, it is important to state that the language far outweighs the story itself here.
I think this is the reason it is so often compared to The Book Thief, although I still believe that this isn’t on the same level. If I were to compare the two, I would say that this is much more conventionally written. The Book Thief is almost experimental in its choice of narrator, and unique descriptions. Instead, Doerr simply has a way of creating such wonderful images in the readers head, helped both by the setting, and by Maire-Laure’s blindness. We get a sense of how she imagines the world to look, rather than how a fully sighted person would see it.
I have given this a rating of 9/10, simply because I wasn’t as compelled with Werner’s story as I was with Marie-Laure’s, and the ending wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I thought the two stories would collide much sooner, and still believe that it could have been better if that had been the case. I won’t give any spoilers, but Marie-Laure and Werner only meet very briefly, although they do leave a strong lasting impression on each other.
I would highly recommend this book, although I would also warn against any preconceptions that this is the next The Book Thief, because it is not. They are two stand alone books which share few similarities.
9/10 Almost There