Saturday, November 15, 2014

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See - Pretty Darn Good

There are many reasons why I pick certain books to read.  It could be because I know the author; or it's come highly recommended; or I'm going to see an author at a local bookstore; or it's an author that I always read.  Another main reason is that it's for a book club.  That's the case here.  Books, Inc. Palo Alto, has a 4th Tuesday Book Club (this month it's November 25) that I used to go to a lot but haven't been able to attend for many months.  Well, I'm happy to say that I can actually get to the November meeting, and All the Light We Cannot See is this month's selection.  I don't think I would have picked it otherwise.  Did I like it?  I really did.  But it didn't start out that way.

For quite a while, I was the victim of what I like to call Literary Staccato.  This is a syndrome in which the writing kind of smacks you in the face.  Here's an example from early in the book:

"When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent:   no engines, no voices, no clatter.  No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles.  Not even gulls.  Just a high tide, one block away and six stories below, lapping at the base of the city walls."

See what I mean?  It's like boom, boom, boom.  The sentences, or fragments thereof, aggressively come at you.  It's a little hard to explain, but that's what I felt.  Finally, though, I got in the rhythm of it.  Once I did, I was able to focus on the story.  And here's what it's about:

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

There are a lot of things I just can't tell you because it will give too much of it away. Here's what I can tell you:  The 2 protagonists, who are young children when the book starts - one in France and one in Germany - are both very likable characters.  You really do care about them and hope that everything goes well for each one.  

I can tell you that I really liked how Doerr sets up his timetable.  He starts in 1944 and then goes back to 1940.  Each time he goes to 1944, he picks up where he left off.  And every time he goes back to 1940, it gets closer to 1944, until...

I can tell you that the book reminded me of Irving Wallace's The Plot - how the book tells a story of several characters who move toward each other.  There are also shades of Romeo and Juliet and Sleepless in Seattle (how often do you see those 2 in the same sentence?).  I can also tell you that something happens late in the book that made me feel the way I did at the end of Pat Conroy's South of Broad.  That's all I'm going to say about that!  (If you want to know what I'm talking about, you can go to my post from October 13 of this year and scroll down a bit.)  And, finally, I can tell you that there is a scene in the book that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.  Intrigued?  I hope so.

Because there is so much I can't tell you, I look forward to hearing back from some of you if/when you read it.  I would enjoy a dialogue about the book.  And I am definitely excited about the book club meeting later this month at Books, Inc.  See you...somewhere?


  1. I love when I pick up a book I might not have read otherwise and end up really enjoying it. That happens to me a lot with book club books. :) I haven't read the one you reviewed here, but it does sound good and I am glad to know that after reading for a bit the reader is able to fall into the writing style and get a rhythm going. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I agree with you about book club books. It's a question mark oftentimes, but there are some gems that come out of these clubs.

  3. That's what I love about book clubs - discovering books I'd have never tried on my own.

  4. In 2008, fresh from our trip to Italy, I read Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome and really liked it. And then he came to our local bookstore to read from it and I find out he grew up around here so he had lots of family and friends there. I want to read this one!

  5. Stacy, I think you're going to like it. Kathy, I totally agree with the whole book club concept. I also have to say that having the author come to our book club meetings after we have had a chance to discuss it (and prepare questions) is an outright winner.