Article published on February 13, 2015.
AMS Digital MD, Alastair Giles and nudge and newbooks publisher, Guy Pringle are agreed this book should be on your radar
Alastair first: Sometimes you need to see the physical book and hold it in your hands before you decide to read it. How many times have you unearthed something magical from the pages of Amazon, only to have the package arrive and feel daunted by the weight of literary acclaim (and the general weight of the book itself…). 530 pages is enough to put many off, but, this book should come armed with a special sticker on the cover: “Honestly, I know I look daunting, but, I’m written so beautifully, I promise it’ll fly by.”
Wonderfully constructed from the starting viewpoint of August 1944 in Normandy and then traced back over the previous decade and the whole of Europe, the novel is written in spare, elegant prose, which relaxes and cajoles you into thinking this is all you ever need from a book. The longer you delve the more you’re hooked, but this is no transient high, it forces you backwards and forwards in the novel to undo every teasing thread.
Essentially it’s a love story, but the protagonists, a blind 16 year-old Parisian on her own in a new town and a blond German scientific prodigy forced into service with the Wehrmacht, don’t actually meet until over 400 pages in and then only fleetingly.
It could be an enticing war story and certainly not many novels I’ve read paint such a glorious and terrifying picture of refugees on the move and armies on the rampage across the landscape of Europe. Yet, turning the last page, I’m more convinced of its anti-war credentials than any book I’ve read for a while.
It might even be an exploration of the inaugural power of radio or a thriller about lost treasures looted by the Nazis. Like the one particular jewel that haunts many of the characters on all sides in the novel, it still has me under its spell.
Finally though, it’s an examination of the rising coastline and the winding, salty old streets of the occupied and besieged town of St Malo in Normandy, just before, and, at the point of its destruction during the Allied invasion.
Absorbing, evocative, enthralling, the back of my chair hasn’t felt my spine for a while, I shall need to look out for more from Mr Doerr.
Expectation – 3
Enjoyment – 5
Reflection – 5
Recommended – 5
Where to start with a book like this? First, three paces back for full disclosure as About Grace was a recommended read in nb28 in 2005. I was blown away by that book, too, and my confusion isn’t that Mr Doerr hasn’t written yet another masterpiece, because he has. It just seems that the rest of the world is looking the other way, and I don’t understand why.
Yes, he’s been nominated for prizes and his broadsheet reviews both sides of the Atlantic are impressive but I don’t get the feeling Anthony Doerr is on the radar of the community of readers I know.
Yes, All the Light We Cannot See is a chunky book at 500 plus pages but few chapters run for more than three pages and many are only a page. So there’s lots of white space and chances to put the book down to cope with real life, before sneaking back to take up the thread.
We are drawn in, as if hypnotised, into many and various lives on both the French and German sides of WW2. But if you’re not a fan of books about war, don’t worry because that’s not the overriding message.
So what’s it about? Werner has a facility with radios and telephony, leaving the children’s home he and younger sister, Jutta, have been sent to because the German war effort needs raw material. Fortunately, he is assigned to track Resistance units who need to be shut down because they are transmitting back to the Allies. Gradually, Werner is moving west to St Malo not realizing a formative influence in his and Jutta’s childhood is now one of those very units.
In Saint Malo, Marie-Laure, blind from the age of six, has been left in the safe-keeping of Uncle Etienne while her father tries to conceal a secret before being transported, we think, to one of the infamous camps in eastern Europe.
I can’t do this book justice, you have to read it for yourself but suffice to say there are many well known names on the literary circuit – and favourites of reading groups across the UK – who could never manage a book of this complexity and make it so accessible at the same time. A powerful 5 stars times 2.
Fowey Festival – looking backwards and forwards