Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr's novel has already had so much praise heaped upon it that my own praise really doesn't matter, but I wanted to review it anyway because I loved it.

All the Light We cannot See follows two young people during the ravages of World War II: a blind girl, Marie-Laure, living with her great uncle in a coastal French city; and Werner, a brilliant young German who takes a post with the army as the marginally better alternative to slaving away in coal mines.

One of the things I loved about the book was the way it didn't stoop to painting its heroes and villains in broad strokes: all of the characters were human, full of flaws and strengths. And even some of the worst characters had minor virtues to round them out.

Beyond that, I was impressed with Doerr's lovely use of description and unconventional narrative. While admittedly some of the flash backs and forwards were a little hard to follow, I liked the way he used them to build urgency in the story. And the prose was simply breathtaking at times:

[E] vening is settling over the hundred thousand rooftops and chimneys of Paris, and all the walls around her are dissolving, the ceilings too, the whole city is disintegrating into smoke, and at last sleep falls over her like a shadow.
 [writing of the beach]: Cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid offerings: pebbles, shells, barnacles. 
 Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.
And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That [list redacted for spoilers!] might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating with it. 
And through it all, this recurrent metaphor of light: that our brains, trapped in the darkness of our skulls, are nonetheless capable of registering the light of the outside world. That people themselves have this light trapped in them as well, if we can but see it. 

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