It has been a long time since I read a book that had such an impact on me as ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr*. As ironic as it is for me to say as a book blogger, I’m not sure I will be able to do justice to the impact this book has had on me. If you take notice of any recommendations that I post on this blog, let it be this one. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for VERY good reason!
What stood out most to me was the respectful portrayal of blindness. If you have read many of my previous posts, you will know I am very passionate about the accurate and positive representation of people with disabilities. Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six, whilst many characters in the novel offer her sympathy, the reader is never made to feel that way towards her. Doerr never gives detailed visual descriptions when writing from her perspective so the reader is also dependent on sound, touch, taste and smell to build our understanding of the world. I particularly appreciated the way Doerr illustrated the changes and adaptations Marie-Laure and her father had to make in order to make the world as accessible as possible for her. From the books in braille, which became increasingly difficult to find as the war went on, to the scale models of Paris and Saint Malo that her father built in order for Marie-Laure to learn her way around the neighbourhood, this also helped to illustrate the way disability can affect a person’s relationships as they become more dependent on those around them. Marie-Laure’s father also reminded me, at times, of Belle’s father in Beauty and the Beast.
Historical fiction was one of my favourite genres for years and I had a special interest in World War Two novels. however, I very quickly moved on from this as I realised that every novel I was reading was set in England. This book, however, offers different perspectives, from Werner, a young German man who is signed up to the Hitler Youth and later the German army and a young French girl and her father who are forced to flee from their home in Paris. Werner’s perspective was especially interesting as it subtly showed the internal conflict he faced in doing his duty as a German boy who was presented with only one option and the increasing discomfort he felt at what he was being made to do.
I must admit, the timeline of events is somewhat confusing. The book is split into eleven parts, each one taking place in a different period of time. Perhaps I was reading too quickly so I didn’t take in the time changes but I found that I was having to flick back to the beginning of each part to reacquaint myself with where the book was in the timeline of the Second World War.
Finally, I have to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of Doerr’s narrative voice. As I was reading, I kept wishing I could bottle his writing style and use it on all of my own work. You could feel the shift in tension as the book switched from Werner’s point of view to Marie-Laure’s. Werner’s chapters felt darker and heavier whilst Marie-Laure’s were tinged with hope. As a reader, I was completely immersed in the world, an experience I have not had with a book in a very long time.
Have you read ‘All the Light We Cannot See’? Let me know what you thought in the comments!