Marie-Laure is twelve years old when the Germans occupy Paris, forcing her and her father to flee to the home of her great-uncle Etienne on the coast. Marie-Laure has been blind since she was six, so her father quickly sets to learning the town and building Marie-Laure a miniature replica so that she can find her way around – not that he allows her to leave the house, for fear of her safety. But her father is hiding a secret, and a valuable one at that. Over in Germany, the young orphan Werner is building and repairing radios and catches the attention of the military. He’s immediately enlisted and begins on a path that eventually collides with that of Marie-Laure, changing both of their lives forever.
“All your life you wait, and then it finally comes,
and are you ready?”
I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, so I’m not sure how All the Light We Cannot See ended up on my shelf, but it had been sitting there for a couple of years before I picked it up. I knew it had won the Pulitzer Prize, so I thought I’d give it a shot before writing it off completely. I instantly loved it. The writing is so rich and beautiful. It’s been over a week since I finished reading it and I can still picture scenes from the book perfectly in my head. It’s incredibly moving too. I had to put the book down a few times to have a little cry – I’m tearing up now just thinking about it!
I really enjoyed the structure of the book; it alternated between Werner and Marie-Laure’s points of view, as well as between two timelines, until towards the very end of the book where the first timeline catches up to the second and they converge. This kept me so engaged with the novel because I was desperate to find out how Marie-Laure and Werner ended up in the situations in which the later timeline introduces us to them. The chapters are very short too, sometimes only one-page vignettes, which meant that it felt like a very quick read despite being over 500 pages.
I became very attached to many of the characters, especially Etienne and Frederick. Even though they were relatively secondary to the story, they were still given equal attention in terms of character building. They were so alive and I felt very invested in their stories. My only complaint is that I felt a little distant from Werner, despite him being one of the main characters. I think it’s because he very much lets life happen to him, rather than actually living it. I don’t recall him having much dialogue, nor was there much insight into his own feelings. It left me feeling a little detached, and more interested in the people in his life. However, this was such a minor thing in an otherwise incredibly beautiful novel that I can’t possibly rate this book anything other than five stars. A favourite that I’ll be recommending to a lot of people for a long time.
Rating: 5 / 5 stars