Forgive me Philip Roth, for I have sinned. First of…
I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of an asshole when it comes to war books. They bore me. War is barbaric and dehumanizes us, I get that. Do I need to read one million books to reiterate this point? No.
That’s kind of how I felt about half of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, the other half I really enjoyed, but the boring parts got in the way of the good parts and this National Book Award nominee left me mostly underwhelmed.
It’s strange to read this one so closely on the heels of Merrit Tierce’s Love Me Back. The ferocity of Tierce’s writing pulled me through her book even though the plot was kind of non-existent. With Doerr the beauty of his writing only seemed to call attention to the fact that his plot was kind of bloated and at times annoying. Funny how our brains work.
All the Light We Cannot See intertwines the lives of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who is spirited out of Paris as WWII encroaches on the city by her father a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History and Werner, a flaxen-haired German orphan with an otherworldly gift for radios.
Marie-Laure’s story is the best part of this book. The way her locksmith dad teaches her how to navigate her surroundings by building intricate model towns is enchanting. Marie-Laure’s relationship with her father and great uncle are fabulous. The mystery surrounding a legendary and maybe cursed diamond called the Sea of Flames is interesting, but gets lost in the all the boring Werner stuff.
Werner’s story is a total drag. He lives in an orphanage in a mining town with his sister. He becomes enchanted by radios at a young age and eventually is sent to some Nazi youth camp where he’s taught math, science, and how barbaric war is. Eventually his story winds its way to Marie-Laure and then some really unsatisfying things happen that I won’t give away.
The writing here is all very good and at times breathtakingly beautiful, and yet still . . . I wanted to rip out all the Werner stuff and just be left with the compelling story of Marie-Laure and the Sea of Flames. I cannot quite figure out what Werner’s role in the book was and why we needed him.
I don’t know. I read three of the five fiction finalists for the National Book Award and found each one nicely written but, well, kind of boring. I’m beginning to think the NBA and I have very different taste.