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All The Light We Cannot See

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr



The reviews were good: 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. It might also win ‘novel of the century so far’, if/when there is such a prize. So, like a fish, I was hooked and purchased the book, read it and in the end, unlike the fish, I was glad I’d been hooked. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it is a great read, well constructed and very well written. The main characters are a French blind girl and a young German soldier whose lives are shattered by the second world war, as is the mighty city of Saint-Malo, in Brittany, where most of the action takes place.


Oddly enough, the “light we cannot see” doesn’t really refer to the girl’s blindness, but to the radio waves that are the young German soldier’s passion. In a story that sometimes verges on the melodramatic, the author manages to avoid diverting the reader by jumping abruptly to a new topic. Short chapters throughout carry a succession of parallel storylines as it seems to be the trend nowadays, but to the author’s credit, they are easy to follow. It is primarily a war story befitting our world, where good and evil are not always clear cut.


Surprisingly, there is no romance to alleviate pain, anguish, and violence, as is often the norm. The book is cut out like a jigsaw puzzle, where the reader - like the main characters - must find the missing piece… and having read the book, it feels that might be unique for each reader.


The book is published by 4th Estate. The paperback copy has 531 pages, followed by a patronising “reading guide” and a few interesting pages about the author. Also, I’m told that Netflix has produced a series based on this book. I’m not really a TV fan, but more to the point is that having read the book, and having been riveted by the plot,, watching it on TV would be like watching a film of Little Red Riding Hood and being expected to wonder if the wolf is going to gulp down the poor girl: no, the point of that I cannot see.


- Gilbert B, House of Hodge Volunteer



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