18. All the Light We Cannot See

“At dusk they pour from the sky.”

All the Light We Cannot See, Anothony Doerr

This was my bookclub’s April book, and I think I may have been the last person on Earth to read it.  Even the other bookclub ladies had all read it previously, when it was the top book of 2015 and everyone on Earth was loving it so. (Me, at that time *I* was in the bag for Station Eleven, the other book that was hot then).  But I did finally read it, and while I understand why it was so popular - and I appreciate a lot about it (even more now that my book club has met and we’ve talked about it at great length), I have to be the vox clamatis in deserto and say that I did not love this book.

Oh, there is no question that Doerr’s writing is exquisite.  Both beautiful, and so clear that it’s practially cinematic.  You can see the images in your head, and I must imagine that someone here has snapped up the film rights and we’ll be seeing a movie of this soon.  And, I also will add that of the two protagonists in the novel, I thought that Werner, the German orphan who grows into a Nazi super soldier, was an inspired creation.  Doerr makes him flawed, and sympathetic, and real and wrong and we don’t get enough stories, in English, at least that make you understand why someone might end up in Werner’s position (while not at all condoning Nazi ideology - or shying away from the terribleness of what it stands for - and what Werner himself does.).  So I understand why this book won the Pulitzer, and why it became the big book of 2015.  I am glad I read it, and I appreciate its merits.

BUT (and isn’t there always a but?), this book was NOT FOR ME. Spoilers ahoy, but I figured that you, too, have already read this.  I HATED the other protagonist, the manic pixie blind French girl, Marie-Laure. I mean, I didn’t hate HER - no one could hate her, with her moxie, and her loving father, and her survival in the face of the worst situations.  And her indomitable spirit and bravery and moxie.  She is a super woman (Best Actress nom for whomever gets to play her, for sure).  What I hated was the entire notion of her - because nothing about Marie-Laure was credible, not even one little bit.  Marie-Laure did not exist - could not exist, never happened.  

I need to be clear in my criticism.  First is my general complaint that she is a perfect Mary Sue unflawed heroine (being blind is a hurdle, not a realistic character trait).  But that is a common complaint in fiction.  What made me crazy was that her plot was not one bit plausible.  My bookclubbers tried to argue that this was a sort of magical realism thing, but Werner is so real - and his whole story is true.  A poor bright orphan would become a Nazi to avoid the mines, and he wouldn’t  have the guts to stand up for his friend against the collective pack of student-tormentors, and, let’s face it, even after having survived the hotel implosion, he would step on a land mine and die an insigificant death.  That is what war is like - that is what life is like.

ON THE OTHER HAND.  No little blind girl ever escaped the invasion of Paris by the Germans, made it to St. Malo, then, after her father and her grandmotherly housekeeper both died, got her housebound great uncle to find his inner bravery and join the resistance.  AND after he is taken to a prison by the Germans, survived, alone (AND BLIND, let us not forget), in their home, managing to hide from and outsmart a (SIGHTED) Nazi seeking a mysterious hidden jewel.  And then, survive the war (including the decimation by bombs of  the entire town of St. Malo where she was hidden BY HERSELF), and - this is the part that broke me - become a famous MARINE BIOLOGIST. NO. No no no no no no no.  This never happened.  A blind person did NOT become a world reknowned marine biologist.  Literature professor? Sure. Musician? Why not? Radio personality.  Ok.  But not a marine biologist.  The epilogue to this book almost killed me.

And even beyond that, I find Marie-Laure story to be almost offensive.  The idea that this girl is so magic and special that she survives is so counter to the reality of war - and even of the rest of the book, Werner’s own story.  Life isn’t like that - people die in war because they happen to be in the wrong spot, because they cross the wrong street.  I didn’t find Marie-Laure's experience to be uplifting, I found it to be nonsense.

ARGH.  Bookclub made me think I liked this book, but writing this reminded me that I did not.  I like magical beautiful writing as much as the next person, but blergh.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017