Think of a painting – the most exquisite painting you can imagine. Brimming with colour; awash with detail; painstakingly crafted with the most delicate and intricate of strokes.
Now, imagine that painting in book form – and you have the masterpiece that is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
I completely devoured this novel, torn between an inability to put it down and a desire to linger over and savour each individual sentence. With its slightly unusual style of very short chapters (on average around 3 pages each), it’s so easy to plan to read “just one more”, before finding that a couple of hours have gone by and you’re still reading.
Initially I wasn’t too sure about the short chapters, having never really read a novel quite like it – but as I became more absorbed in the story, I found that it worked very well. The chapters each served as little snapshots into the two protagonists’ lives, providing snippets of information for the reader to piece together as the characters’ stories intertwined.
The story follows two children of a similar age, with vastly different lives. Marie-Laure, the daughter of a museum locksmith, became blind at the age of six. With the dawn of the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of France, she and her father flee from their Paris home to the coastal town of Saint-Malo.
Werner, meanwhile, is an orphan living in the mining town of Zollverein. His great skill and interest in science and mechanics leads him to be offered a place at an elite Nazi school. This aspect was particularly interesting, as I remember learning about the Nazi efforts to train their youth during History lessons at school, but hadn’t ever experienced it in a novel before. I think it was dealt with very well, and was very emotional to read.
All in all, this was a beautiful novel. I would recommend it for anyone with a love of well-researched and unique historical fiction, a love of intricately-woven stories, or a love of beautiful writing. In short, I recommend this novel to pretty much everyone! It was the first historical fiction set in the Second World War I’ve read for a while, and it really served to remind me what an interesting and emotionally harrowing period of history it is to read about.