All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Definitely an incredibly fascinating story, gloriously detailed and richly thematic. And absolutely a bookclubber’s delight. However, I’m not sure I’ll be adding it to my favourite ever books.
Yet, I think my view probably misses the point. Anthony Doerr shows us so many slices of life, and his style is deliberately open to so many different interpretations. In fact, there are elements that I simply didn’t get, which makes a bookclub conversation so much better.
For most books it’s pretty clear who the protagonist is. Not so here. Is this Marie-Laure’s story? Or Werner’s? Or maybe it’s both? Or is it all about the jewel?
Depending on how you saw the protagonist will define your story perspective. Is this about war and one that ask questions about the obvious villains? Is it a war novel or not? And how do you feel about the sympathetic portrayal of the Germans.
Or is it the story of M-L’s blindness, and the war is a tool that demonstrates the difficulties she faces. In particular the struggle to find a learn a new town. And to survive the horrors when perhaps so much if it us hidden from you. Or is it?
Perhaps it is a story about power. The stone is incredibly powerful, as are the Germans and the man who searches for the ultimate jewel. But is the power in having the jewel, or in setting it free, given the supposed curse?
Alongside this big story, the author captures in such incredible detail an insight into a long lost world. The description of the museum and Marie-Laure’s father and his role with the keys was immensely moving and fascinating. It’s so out of the realms of understanding for those of us working today, yet gives a sneak peak at the work our great grand parents might have done.
Werner’s love of radios and wires, when the mobile is so ubiquitous is both sweet and compelling. It’s extraordinary to imagine little children tuning into radio shows across Europe as the fabric of that society tore itself in two. The concept of a small boy trying to work out how and why the radio worked touched my heart.
The horror of the war with a unique twist of the average German, is exemplified throughout but the Giant’s search for clothes in his size and the Russian soldiers and the girls in Berlin were so simple, powerful and dreadful. It left a metallic taste in your mouth.
What makes it perfect for a bookclub is that I’ve not mentioned so many aspects of Doerr’s book:
– what makes someone like Eitenne so brave. Who would risk family for the greater good? And if none did what would the consequences have been?
– what does the ending mean? How impactful what was it? Was it what we wanted? Personally I didn’t get it at all!
– what was Frederick’s role? Was it demonstrate the changing nature of power? Or to show the impact on Werner? Or was he just a side show? I can’t see Doerr going with a side show but you never know.
– the indoctrination of children to the Nazi cause. How relevant is that today looking at Syria and other conflicts. Have we learnt nothing?
– do the German people have a particular national resilience? Or strength? To suffer the complete chaos in defeat that Doerr made evident yet somehow move past it to become a world power in a generation, is rather amazing. Perhaps Mrs Merkel is really into something in her belief in Germany’s ability to cope today.
Of course, the resonance of Doerr’s story has such powerful implications for all of us today. So, definitely suggest it to your bookclub and may the discussion commence!