‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever!’
For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.’ – book blurb
Sixteen year old Marie-Laure is blind, but she ‘sees’ so much that other people can’t. She notices sounds and smells that people with their sight take for granted. With the help of her loving, dedicated father, she manages to stay self-sufficient and independent.
Werner is a curious boy, full of unanswerable questions, and a keen wish to learn, and teach himself. When word spreads of his talent for fixing seemingly irreparable radios, he is taken from the orphanage where he lives with his younger sister, Jutta, and sent to a special school, where his talent is honed, but where he also witnesses extreme cruelty at the hands of schoolmates and teachers towards the ‘weaker’ boys, all in the name of strengthening them for the Hitler Youth. As he gets older, his talent leads him to make choices that just don’t seem right, and which finally lead him to Marie-Laure.
What I Liked
-The writing style. All The Light We Cannot See is made up of different sections, spanning different years. Each section contains very short chapters, only a page or two in length, usually alternating between the two main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner. The short chapters are easy to read, and very quick. They aren’t laden down with details either, which means you can read the story quite quickly and without difficulty. It’s a style that I’m not used to, but I enjoyed it.
-Marie-Laure and her relationships with people. I think initially, when she meets people, they want to pity her because of her blindness, but she quickly proves that this is not necessary. Instead, she shows that she is perfectly capable, and forms sweet friendships – especially with her great-uncle Etienne and his housekeeper Madame Manec. I also love her relationship with her doting father, and the unique way he cares for her. In each town they live in, he builds an exact model replica, so that Marie-Laure can learn the streets and layout, and familiarise herself so she can move around the town by herself. He gives her independence, and I absolutely adore that aspect of the story.
-The emphasis put on reading, and education. I know this is a strange point, but I love how the author constantly has Marie-Laure devouring the Braille books that her father buys her, and eagerly listening to Etienne reading to her. I enjoy books that talk about books. Hey, I’m a book geek, ok? Also, while he was at a Nazi school, training to be in the Hitler Youth, the education that Werner received was still recognised by all as an honour, something special. His intelligence is praised, and encouraged. Like I said, a strange point, but something I really enjoyed in the story.
-The character arcs, especially Werner’s. Throughout the book, you can see Werner’s struggles with himself and what he does as part of Hitler Youth and beyond that. His job is to track down anyone who is using a radio illegally, and he knows that doing so means the owner will be killed. The author does a really good job of conveying his reluctance to do this, but his fear not to. This is shown throughout his childhood too, in his refusal to speak up while his friend Frederick is treated cruelly. As time goes on, and events unfold, however, I was so pleased to see Werner redeem himself. It was so lovely, and satisfying to read, and I really felt he came first circle.
-How the author wrote about blindness. I loved how this was handled, personally. I didn’t find that the author once portrayed Marie-Laure’s blindness as an affliction, or something terrible to be pitied. Nor did he he make her seem bitter, or angry about losing her sight. The way he described the smells e.g. the saltiness of the sea, the yeast and flour smell of the bakery etc added depth to the story, and on a few occasions, it made me sit back, close my eyes, and pay attention to the sounds and smells around me. It really was wonderfully written.
-The epilogue. I’ve said before of my absolute love for epilogues. I love finding out what the characters are doing years down the line, and this book ends brilliantly with this. It visits each character, and gives us a detailed look at how their lives turned out. I loved it!
What I Didn’t Like
-The scenes of cruelty, especially at Werner’s school. I know they were completely in keeping with the setting and the time, but I found it very hard to read about schoolboys beating the ‘weaker’ boys in their class. It made me feel uncomfortable, and slightly ill when I read the scenes.
-I found the jumping timelines in the chapters a little confusing. There were times when it took me a minute to figure out when and where the chapter was taking place.
-The ‘cursed diamond’ storyline seemed a bit odd to me – it was at the same time crucial, but not needed in the story, if that makes sense. It seemed to only be mentioned throughout as a way of bringing the story to it’s climax, and I wanted the ‘cursed’ myth to be explored more. But I’m nitpicking now!
Overall, I enjoyed this book. At 530 pages, it’s quite long, but it’s worth the read. I think, if you’re looking for an exciting book with plot twists and breathtaking moments, it won’t be for you, but if you want a steady, heartfelt and satisfying book, you should try this.
I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.