If it wasn’t for the fact that I fell asleep at 2.00am, holding this paperback until the words were swimming on the page, I would have read Anthony Doerr‘s ‘All the Light We Cannot See‘ in one sitting. Considering the novel is 530 pages long, that is saying something, and my tenacity was not just because of my 50-book target for the year. This is one of the best books I have read in 2014. It was top of my Christmas list and I got started on Boxing Day!
The blurb focuses on the two central characters in the novel; Marie-Laure Leblanc is a young blind girl living with her locksmith father in Paris. Werner Pfennig is a German orphan with a feverish interest in science and a natural knack for fixing radios; his talent affords him the opportunity to enter a National Political Institute of Education, a military academy. When war breaks out, the Leblanc leave the city to make for firstly Evreux, then St Malo on the Northern coast of France. Werner continues his training and is sent to war, using mathematical and practical skills to track down enemy broadcasters. The teenagers’ lives intersect for a short, but unforgettable space in time.
Although I penned that sketchy synopsis, you could have discovered one for yourself online; but what a book-jacket can’t convey as well is how Doerr’s writing draws you in, as if you are a fly caught in an intricate web. There are threads which lead you further and further into the centre of the story, nothing is insignificant, no details are wasted, until everything pulls together into a tight pattern. Doerr evokes the magic of childhood imagination as Etienne flies with Marie-Laure on the Magical Couch, the courage of resistance as Mme Manec joins with other Malouins to undermine the enemy, the pull of the sea, humour, comradeship and so much more.
And what about the title? What are the lights we cannot see? Both Marie-Laure and Werner find themselves trapped in darkness but are inspired and courageous nevertheless. The beacons which guide them through the blackness cannot be seen, but still shine brightly; love, hope, friendship, belief, bravery – all of these can lead us out of the gloom.
Writing about this book has focused my mind more carefully on what I am doing here on this blog than probably any of the other works I have reviewed. If you want to know what a book is about, probably best to look on Waterstones website and read a synopsis, but if you are looking for a recommendation for a book you might enjoy – read this one!