All The Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781476746586, May 2014, 531pp.)
The Short of It:
An absorbing story but not as riveting as I had hoped it to be.
The Rest of It:
This story is basically about two people, Marie-Laure, a blind girl living with her father in France before the German occupation of France and Werner Pfenning, a young German boy, orphaned and living with his sister Jutta in a home for orphaned children.
Marie-Laure’s father is the key holder of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, which is where a gemstone called the Sea of Flame is kept safe, at least for a time Much of the story is about this stone and its whereabouts because in order to protect it, fake stones are handed out for safekeeping, the protectors unsure which stone is in fact the real gem.
As Marie-Laure tries to survive in France while her father is away, Werner has been chosen to attend an elite school for the Third Reich. His knack with all things electronic, primarily radios and how they work, make him a coveted asset to the Third Reich.
As you can imagine, the two stories intersect at some point and when they do, you can’t help but be swept up by it all. Marie-Laure is blind but a lover of books; books which are mentioned often in the novel itself. In between the serious bits, are fantastical parts of the story that lessen its blow somewhat, but at the same time, made it slightly unrealistic for me.
It’s not fantasy. I want to be clear about that but Doerr’s delivery lends a fantastical nature to the story. There’s a hidden room behind a wardrobe, a secret grotto, miniature houses, and to me, it smacked of convenience (a little bit) and took me out of the story a few times.
We read this for book club and everyone enjoyed it, as did I. Maybe the hype of winning the Pulitzer had me thinking it would be a little more than what it was. Not sure but it fell a little flat for me and I found myself skimming towards the end.
Overall, it was a good read but there were times where I found myself questioning the events that took place and each time that happened, I was pulled out of the story. It read like a screenplay. Very visual, and that part I enjoyed quite a bit. I thought it had been optioned for a movie but surprisingly, I don’t think that has happened yet.
Have you read it? What did you think?
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36 thoughts on “Review: All The Light We Cannot See”
This book is definitely on my must-read. I think I quite like the idea of semi-fantastical story set in WW2.
I am not a fan of war reads but this one is different. That fantastical element made it more enjoyable to read.
I too thought it was really good but lacked that elusive extra sparkle that made it outstanding. I would also mention that it made me think; especially about how the Germans were motivated to learn and excel and be cruel – this aspect of Hitler’s rise to power fascinates me.
Yes. It did lack sparkle. I think maybe it was there but perhaps edited out? I saw glimmers of sparkle when referring to the grotto and whenever the little models were brought up. Plus, the gem itself. Such mystery.
I really enjoyed this story a lot. I chose the audio version though because I thought maybe it would move a bit quicker. I find that I listen to more historical fiction than other genres for that reason. And yes, Doerr paints a very vivid picture so I could definitely see this as a movie.
It’s weird. I typically only listen to women’s fiction or thrillers on audio. I feel as if some genres lend themselves better to audio but I bet this one would be good since it read like a script.
I’ve checked this out of the library twice and didn’t managed to read it either time. Maybe I’ll try audio if I decide to borrow it again…
When you checked it out those times, did you read any of it? It’s a little slow to start off.
No, I never even cracked it open. That’s the problem with library holds… they never seem to come at the right time.
Prize winners usually scare me away but I bought this one after Julie raved about it.
My experience with prize winners is that they usually aren’t readable! This one is. I just had those few little issues with the story.
I’m thinking about trying this one again. Did not finish the first time around. I kept falling asleep and failed to ever find that magic that so many reviews promised. But it could have been me… Bad timing perhaps.
You have to be further in to see the magical aspects but overall, I just expected it to really hold my attention and it didn’t. There were many parts I enjoyed though. I think maybe editing was a factor. It’s long it was probably much longer before it was published.
I have this one on audio and got distracted away by other books but I plan to go back to it soon.
It is a good read, but it didn’t hold my attention like some of the other books I’ve read recently. I hope you like the audio!
I thought those elements of convenience that bothered you were more whimsical and helped lighten what could have been a thoroughly depressing story.
I listened to this one as an audiobook. Perhaps the narrator’s performance helped me enjoy it more than you did. I wish you could have liked it more than you did!
We discussed the whimsical aspect of it in book club and for the most part, we did think it lightened it up but some of us also felt like the use of those conveniences were too obvious. Every time I hit one of those points I was pulled out of the story.
Sometimes I think that hype is catching…and then when people give space between the hype and a reading, some of the more realistic reviews come out. I haven’t read this one, though I would like to…I’m always glad when I read a grounded post (though I only read your first and last paragraphs) so that I can have more level expectations.
It is a good read and I think you will actually enjoy it. I did appreciate the fact that it puts a slightly different spin on “the other side” and how easily a child could get caught up in all of it. I can see why it’s popular. I just had a couple of little issues with the convenience of some of the events and one big event that is barely talked about.
I think this sounds fantastic. I like books that can transport me visually
Serena, no doubt in my mind that you would enjoy this one. It’s totally your thing.
Haven’t read it, but I do understand what you’re saying about inorganic elements that end up taking away from the story. I came across this particular “sin” in a recent read – The Black Iris. Sad that it happens, but it’s not uncommon
Had it not been for those elements I think it would have ended up on my fave list. There was that little something that held me back from loving it. Another blogger said it lacked sparkle. Another good way of saying it.
I would agree with you. I liked it and respected it, but I am not dragging people to Barnes and Noble to buy it immediately.
I was so disappointed with this one!! The writing was gorgeous but I felt like the story was boring.
It did get a little boring at the end which is where I started to skim. Probably the last 10% was me skimming through it.
I read this last summer and honestly can barely remember it, except that I do remember I did’t love it at all. I keep thinking I should try it again since obviously I missed out on something, bit then I look at my TBR stack and just think that there is no way I have time to go back and re read anything!
I’m not surprised at all that it took the Pulitzer but I am surprised at how popular it was before the win. It just seemed to lack something.
My thoughts exactly! We read it for book club and half the group loved it. I only gave it 3 stars. I liked it– but….
It’s been a while since I read this one but I recall really enjoying it…. Here was what I said on Goodreads –
I liked the book quite a bit, but thought it could have been edited shorter. It went on quite a bit, building and building but then the protagonists’ meeting and ending seemed a bit less than I thought it could’ve been. Still it was visual, and I liked that. Poor Werner. That seemed abrupt!
Exactly! The pivotal parts seemed to be glossed over. Maybe it was a result of editing. Who knows? I needed some magic.
I did like this one and thought the writing was gorgeous but I didn’t fall in love with the book. I think I had too-high expectations, what with it being a prize winner and so many people raving about it.
Yep. The high expectation thing can be a problem I really didn’t even know what it was about when I started to read it. I just knew it was beloved by many.
Just read this book and enjoyed reading the comments. I appreciate the work that went into it, can feel those ten years. Exquisite rendering of a war-torn world–maybe the most atmospheric novel I’ve ever read. The fantastical elements keep the horror muffled. But the book is overlong, with the details becoming self-serving, and I was distracted by the back and forth timeline. The ending peters out, as if it can’t quite support the weight of the story, and yes it’s hard not to skim the last 10%.
I didn’t like it as much as my book club did. It petered out in places.