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You’ve no doubt heard of this book, which was on just about every “best books of the year” list for 2014. After all the rave reviews, I was quite curious to see whether All the Light We Cannot See would live up to the hype. It sort of does. I definitely enjoyed it, and I think Doerr’s writing is wonderful — rich in detail, fine, lyrical:

“He has tried every test he can think of without involving another soul,” for example. And ” . . . her existence has become tolerable. At least, out on the beaches, her privation and fear are rinsed away by wind and color and light.” And “To men like that time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it.”

The story is unique but also timeless. Two young people, Werner and Marie-Laure, growing up in countries that will soon be at war, who are connected by a mysterious radio broadcast. One hears it, one is the grandchild of the man who recorded it. Doerr sets their lives spinning and throughout the book, directs their orbits closer and closer, until, as WWII draws to an end, they cross. The novel’s structure, passing back and forth between these two characters, and back and forth in time, matches its narrative arc, which bobs and weaves.

But, lovely and interesting as it is — full of all the little pieces of Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives, all the supporting characters who flesh out their stories, all the historical background, all the science — the book is too long, and in places, too slow to develop. I had to work to get through it in two weeks, and in the middle the only thing that kept me going was knowing that a good portion of the book world loved it.  Some of the characters’ lives take turns that are deeply unsatisfying, but that is true of life as well. Some portions of the story are improbable and even perhaps a little too tidy, but I was able to suspend disbelief. Doerr doesn’t tie up the ending with a neat bow, he leaves a little mystery, a little for the reader to puzzle over, which I like.

So although I’m glad I read it and I can’t say I disliked it, I wasn’t wowed. I am sure many of you will disagree with me, so if you loved this book on every single page, leave a comment and tell me why.

 

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