Friday, 5 February 2016

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: This Pulitzer Prize winner is one I will use as an example for anyone criticising a non-linear narrative. In Doerr’s skilful hands, the story could not be told any other way than to leap back and forth in time.

Two stories intersect and eventually entwine in the build-up to World War II.

Marie-Laure is blind and motherless, but endowed with great fortune. Her father, the key-keeper of Paris’s natural history museum, shares with her all the treasures the museum and their suburb has to offer.

In an industrial city in Germany, young Werner grows up in an orphanage, devoid of opportunity and destined for the mine until his skill at technology and in particular, radio repair, opens a door to an elite academy for Aryan cadets for the Third Reich.

Nature, nurture, propaganda, science and the balanced perspective show how minds (both young and old) can be conditioned, damaged and trained.

A third strand is added in the shape of a gem-specialist recruited by the Nazis, who is determined to find The Sea of Flames, a diamond previously hidden at the museum. A diamond, according to legend, which confers immortality on its owner but destroys everything s/he loves.

The converging narratives relentlessly bring our two protagonists closer to the denouement. We know what happens in history but not to these characters. This story is very human, enlightening, painful and touching. Most of all, a vital reminder of the futility and destruction wreaked by war.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, the film Life is Beautiful or The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Avoid if you don’t like: Realities of war, long novels, WWII

Ideal accompaniments: A warm baguette with butter, a pitcher of rough red wine and Au Clair de la Lune.

Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction

Available at Amazon

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