Saturday, August 8, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

This bestseller was chosen for the September pick in one of my book clubs.  It's the story of two young people - a blind girl from Paris, Marie-Laure, who is detained in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France near the end of WWII and Werner, a mechanically gifted German boy swept up in the war.

The introduction advises that the walled city of Saint-Malo was bombed almost to oblivion after the Normandy invasion to root out the last of the German army.  Right away, I'm dreading an entire story that's going to end in a city, and presumably it occupants, being destroyed,  But then, we're taken on a hop scotch of time between the two characters building to...the inevitable meeting and tragedy.

I thoroughly dislike the writing style that goes back and forth each chapter between two stories. It's contrived to keep you reading to get to whichever story you prefer.  The author skips around in time too, making us keep track of multiple vignettes that eventually begin to come together the last 50 or so pages.  It's like reading a mystery or a thriller.

The prose *is* lyrical ...but there's an adverb for every verb and an adjective for every noun,  My greatest complaint is that by writing beautifully the author minimizes the horror of the war. It's as if he paints a wash over the reality and defaults to stereotypes of the besieged French and the cruel Germans so he can write a pretty story.  It's just too touching to have a blind girl lose all she loves and too predictable to have a German boy become a mindless solider that does one heroic gesture.

The book jacket has praise from fellow authors, not critics, a warning in my experience.  Too say the least, I didn't like this one.

To complicate things further, there's a sub-plot of a cursed jewel that Marie-Laure's father is given and a German officer is determined to find.  The officer is a caricature of every Nazi soldier.  That's the problem with all the characters, they are too simple, too flat, too predictable.

If you want to read something about living in Europe during a German occupation and the soldier's on both sides, I'd recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Published:  2014  Read: August 2015  Genre: fiction

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