Posted in Books I have read

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction

This is the story to all the light we cannot see: most relevantly to this story radio waves that are on the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to see is the literal translation but there is another one, this is a story that hasn’t yet been told, one of the many that escaped the notice of the world when faced with the bigger stories of World War II. Anthony Doerr has given us two stories one for each of the youngsters who just happened to be born on opposing sides before there was a war.

First we have Marie-Laure who before the war is living in Paris with her father, a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. Marie-Laure is blind, she lost her sight at six and is generally doted upon by the museum staff as well as her father. To help her with her independence he has built her a model of her neighbourhood, she learns from her fingers where the buildings are. He is also a lover of puzzles so each year on her birthday she receives a box with a treasure hidden inside it, and if she is lucky a braille book telling of magical creatures; Marie-Laure has a fascination with molluscs.

Werner has had an entirely different start to life. He lives in a mining town in Germany, an orphan after his father lost his life in the very mines that Werner is destined to work in as soon as he is old enough. Meanwhile Werner and his younger sister Jutta find a radio which sparks a love of the music and the tales from foreign lands for Jutta and for Werner it is an opportunity for him to learn how it works. It is clear that for Werner a life down the mines will be a waste of an exceptional talent.

Of course we know that life won’t go down the tracks expected for either of these children in Paris Marie-Laure’s father is sent on a mission which ends up in St Malo and for Werner his journey starts with Hitler’s Youth. There are some similarities though, Marie-Laure’s life is curtailed, it isn’t safe for her to venture out of the house of her Uncle Etienne and soon there is a ban on television. Werner on the other hand has to overcome his own instincts in order to survive but at what cost. His relationship with his sister damaged the day he breaks their radio for one that can only receive German stations, she has lost the inspiration of the Frenchman giving children’s lectures and soon she will be left behind at the orphanage. In time these two main characters lives converge and both will need to dig deep to find what seems like impossible reserves of courage.

Widely acclaimed All The Light We Cannot See deserves its accolades although it took longer than I expected for the book to get into its stride. The timeline moves around quite rapidly and so the précis I have given takes a while to fully emerge whilst empathy for both characters is established. Without the profound underlying tale, I was predisposed to like this book as a large part of it is set in St Malo, the place we visit from Jersey, a mere hour away on the ferry. I go to sit outside in the sunshine in the cafes eating galettes and macarons to wander the many alleyways and to walk along the ramparts and look out to sea, never realising until now quite how much of this beautiful walled city was damaged during the war. That said there are a few off-key phrases where the author lets the modern world slip in, but these can be forgiven for the wonderful strands that connect the story together from the first to the last page.


St Malo

I received my copy of this book from the publishers Harper Collins UK in return for my honest opinion.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

19 thoughts on “All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

  1. I’ve seen this book so many times in the shops, getting a good showing, but had no idea what it was about! Thanks for this review (and for the warning about it getting off to a slow start, which sometimes makes me stop reading), it sounds amazing.


  2. It sounds like a very interesting way to connect people’s lives and tell their stories, Cleo. And these do sound like engaging characters. I’m very glad you enjoyed this one, and just from that one ‘photo, I’m keen to see Malo!


    1. It was an ingenious way of highlighting that tragedies happened to people on both sides during the war, an in depth and thoughtful book. St Malo is one of my favourite places – I get to practice my very poor French whilst enjoying good food and drink in such a beautiful place – it is only about 14 miles from Jersey which makes it even better.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful review, Cleo! I just signed up for a class doing an in depth reading of this, so I’m glad you enjoyed it! I have to admit, I was a bit daunted by it’s length and high expectations:-)


    1. Oh Malia, that is fabulous – there is such a lot to this book and my short review only touched the surface – it does take a while to get going so a bit of perseverance is needed in the beginning, but it is well worth it.


  4. My mother and I also made the trip from Jersey to St Malo once upon a time – she bought me a ship in a bottle there, something I had always wanted since reading Enid Blyton’s The Ship of Adventure as a child. Sadly there was no treasure map inside…

    Oh, sorry, that has nothing to do with this book… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve seen this book about a lot, so it’s good to get a review from a reviewer whose reviews I “get” (and usually agree with!) I have this on Kindle; I’ll give it a bash but it may be a bit slow for me.

    And I had no idea you could get over to St Malo in an hour by ferry! How wonderfully exotic – I’m really rather jealous now!


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