Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 531 pages

Published: May 6, 2014

Publisher: Scribner

Genre: Fiction & Literature, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Synopsis:

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.


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As always, I have become a victim of book hype. I heard so much about All The Light We Cannot See, from friends and from other book reviewers. The book one many awards, including the Pultizer Prize in 2015. I thought it was worth the prestige. However, after my reading, I am having a difficult time understanding why.

Anthony Doerr is a fantastic writer. The words that he used were eloquent, articulate and beautiful. With his writing style, readers find themselves really drawn into the story. So, my issue with this novel has nothing to do with the writing. It was the plot. I love historical fiction, especially when it takes place during WWII. I feel like the stories of WWII still need to be told and historical fiction is one medium the stories can be told. But with this novel, I had hard time figuring out what the plot was. Of course, there was a story, but I just found it so clumsy and all over the place that had hard time following it and believing that it remained consistent. I love “plot driven” stories and this novel had that seriously lacking.

I was also annoyed with the length. I could find no reason for it to be this long. In fact, this novel could have been shortened to 300-400 pages. I could see Doerr’s reasoning for breaking the story up into parts, showing the evolution of the characters from the past to the present. But I have to say it was difficult to keep track of what was going on and really dive into the story. When I read the first 100 pages or so, I was close to giving up the book, but suddenly it got interesting, so I carried on. But the story continued to be confusing and jilted.

I liked the main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner. The character development was great but I felt that more could have been done about them. Their stories just left me wanting more, which then leads me to the ending of the story. It just ended so abruptly and it felt to me that Doerr didn’t know how to end the novel so he left it rushed and very clumsy. I expected to feel astonished and amazed, instead felt frustrated and annoyed.

All The Light We Cannot See is not bad but it’s not great either. It had a lot of potential to be truly something great but there were just so many plot holes and techniques that let this story fall through the cracks. If you want to read a historical novel based in World War II, that’s great, but don’t read this. There are far better novels out there that really give that era justice.

Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Get It At: Amazon |Barnes & Noble|Book Depository| Your local library

 

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