Book Review #1: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Ladies and gentleman! Welcome to the first book review on Pending.! I finally finished my book All the Light We Cannot See, and let me tell you- this book is a doozie. But not too fast! I have a few announcements first!

First off, the scheduling of the Reading List will be changing, and the list will be undergoing some alterations. I realized a while after making the list that it would be impossible for me to stick to just a list. So from this point forward, I’ll be releasing the next book at the end of every review. If you are not interested in the book I happen to be reviewing, you then have the option of coming back next time and checking out the next one if you want. I haven’t decided on a set schedule yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know by the next post!

Now, onto the review!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a work of historical fiction set between the years 1934-1944 as World War Two is just beginning to rear it’s ugly head, and just before the end. We follow the lives of two primary characters, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind young girl who lives with her father in Paris before the invasion of France, and Werner Pfennig, an orphan with an insatiable amount of curiosity living in a town where boys are destined to work- and possibly die in the coal mines. Throughout the novel we occasionally see the lives of other characters, but these two are certainly Doerr’s focus throughout as we watch their fates slowly begin to intertwine. BUT- I know what you’re thinking.

“Damnit. This is a romance- isn’t it?”

No, actually. I wouldn’t call it a romance. While the fates of Marie-Laure and Werner are certainly entangled from the very beginning of the novel (though you don’t realize it for roughly a hundred pages in). You’ll find yourself reading, and then gasping aloud as you realize that one character is indeed linked to the other. I’ll hand it to Doerr, he is spectacular at subtleties and painting the personality of the characters he writes to the point that you are rooting for them (or pity them) until the very end. He’s also horribly spectacular at playing with your emotions in a similar fashion to a cat playing with a mouse.

Despite one of his main characters being blind, Doerr still manages to depict the street that Marie-Laure lived on until the occupation without visual details. Sounds, smells, distance with footsteps and pure awareness that someone with sight does not seem to possess. I rarely felt that I was truly following the footsteps of a character that was blind, but a brave, thoughtful, spitfire of a girl living with the effects of the Word War. Everything she touches is depitcted with great detail, everyone she meets has a smell and a sound. I imagine Marie-Laure’s “vision” to be based around paint strokes, so thick that they leave a textured surface.

Saint-Malo, France. Photo pulled from Imgur.
Saint-Malo, France. Photo pulled from Imgur.

Now, I will admit, I hesitated purchasing this book at first because one of the main characters was blind. I was afraid that I was going to be reading about the life of a girl who only saw black, could not function on her own, disabled, weak, helpless. I feared the worse for the this book not because I think those things of the blind, but because I did not know how the author would view the lives of the blind. I was afraid that Marie-Laure would be this one dimensional character that could do nothing but cower in fear in the wake of war, but she certainly is not. After Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo (not a spoiler, they mention it in the dust cover!), she seems to breathe life back into the inhabitants of her (MINOR SPOILER) Great-Uncle’s home. I couldn’t voice enough of the pride I felt as I watched Marie grow into a young woman, strong enough to fight her own battles- not wait for other to fight for her.

Now for Werner. The damned boy won my heart. All through the novel I find that Werner remains so steady in thought. Calm, collected, intellectual to a fault. Now not much can be said about Werner without giving a lot away, but he’s a spectacular character that grew up too fast, too soon, and fought a war he should have never been in. His goals are always motivated by the fact that his father died in the mines that the men in his city say that he is destined to go into when he turns fifteen, and the fact that his sister is a rebellious little girl (a spitfire, dare I say similar to Marie-Laure?) that makes him question his boundaries. I adore the fact that he reminisces on memories and subconsciously makes reference to the past further into the book. I’m DYING to tell you the deep details of why Werner is my favorite, but I don’t want to spoil it for you!


Now I could talk to you about the stone that Marie-Laure and her Father carry with them to Paris (Oh, did I forget to mention that? No spoiler btw. On dustcover.), but I feel like the stone is just another character in this book- and the people are what make it enthralling. You see men go mad over this stone, grow brave because of this stone, sacrifice their lives, but how these lives are intertwined are only somewhat brought together by this stone- in my humble opinion. Yours may differ, but that’s fantastic! That means you’re reading along with me!

You can tell where my interest began to peak.
You can tell where my interest began to peak.

What is else to say about this book? While it is brilliantly written and the imagery is unique, it does have a bit of a slow start that I definitely had to persevere through to get to the good parts (where I finally reaized how Marie-Laure and Werner began to become linked), but the end is BRUTAL. Get ready to have your heart ripped out and stabbed with a hot poker of emotion. Anthony Doerr definitely knew what he was doing when he wrote those last few chapters.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in historically based fiction, but not mysteries. It certainly isn’t hard to decipher where this stone is kept and why it is so important, but that is because this novel is more about Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives- not the stone. You’ll want some patience to get through the beginning, but once you begin to get to the amazing insights that come later on, you’ll never want to stop reading!

I hope this review helped you decide whether or not you are interested in this book! Please feel free to drop a comment if you wish to say what your thoughts on the book are!

Thanks for reading!




2 thoughts on “Book Review #1: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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