I actually finished Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See almost a fortnight ago – around the time everyone else was publishing their ‘Best Books of 2014’ posts *sarcastic font*. Why so long to write my review? Yes, the end of December tends to be on the busy side but actually, it’s because I was (still am) having trouble articulating what it was about this story that completely and wholly captured me.
All the Light I Cannot See is set during WWII and centres around a German boy, Werner, who is eventually recruited to the Hitler Youth Corps, and a French girl, Marie-Laure, who is blind and in the constant care of her father. At the broadest level, it’s a story of destruction, horror and death. But it’s also a story of incredible delicacy, told through locks and keys, miniature wooden houses, radios, music, molluscs and books about birds.
“She can hear the bombers when they are three miles away. A mounting static. The hum inside a seashell.”
“The tide flows past their feet. Everywhere mussels click and sigh.”
Doerr plays with scale and themes of destruction, safety, the keeping of secrets and the sharing of information on so many levels that it was only when I had finished the final page that all of his work, stitching the themes into every character, every scene and every beautiful sentence, became clear – the result is stunning.
“He carries her on his back. Now the barking of gulls. Smell of wet stones, of bird shit, of salt, though she never knew salt to have a smell. The sea murmuring in a language that travels through stones, air, and sky.”
War scenes are dealt with honestly – horrific but not lie-awake-all-night-scared and the dual narrators from both ‘sides’ of the war show that at the frontline, the fear is the same for everyone –
“A face flashes past, pale and waxy, one ear pressed to the floor of the car. Werner blinks. Those are not sacks. That is not sleep. Each car a wall of corpses stacked in the front.”
And I haven’t even mentioned a pivotal plot point – a missing diamond.
“Some things are simply more rare than others, and that’s why there are locks.”
I received my copy of All the Light We Cannot See from the publisher, Schribner via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.