What is the mark of a good writer? Is it just the author’s ability to construct beautiful and well-written prose? Or is there more to it? These questions plagued my mind as I read All the Light We Cannot See. Prior to reading I heard rave reviews of the novel to the point of dangerous hype.
What I discovered is this novel has much more to offer than just beautiful words.
The book is about two characters who are coming-of-age during WWII, Marie-Laure and Werner. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who’s happy existence is upended by the Nazi’s occupation of Paris and they have to flee to Saint-Malo. Werner is a gifted German orphan whose talents get him noticed by the Nazi party.
“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your own life.” (pg.223)
As with everyone who endured (and survived) WWII, both characters are marred by the events they have witnesses. The way that Doerr conveys their journey and transition is the first strength of the novel. Actually, the majority of the main characters are well-developed and leave an impact.
In a genre that tends to be oversaturate, All the Light We Cannot See really stood out in massive field of World War II novels. Doerr actually did something I don’t see a lot, he shows the suffering of average Germans. Now don’t get me wrong, the Nazi Party committed horrible crimes against humanity, butometimes in trying to show how evil the Nazi Party was, we end up painting devil horns on all Germans. I appreciate Doerr for showing an array of complex German characters beyond the stereotypes.
I think the only major downside is the jumping around of the narrative. The book switches back and forth from the two main characters while also going from past to present. Add in short chapters and it can be jarring and hard to follow. Personally I was fine with it until the last quarter of the book, when the gap between past and present was only days.
The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city, in a square no one ever walked her to, and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up,…(pg.96)
So what does make a great writer?
After reading the book I see where the love comes from, particularly with the combination of heartbreak and grace Doerr is able to create in the text. But for me it goes deeper. I think Doerr is a great writer because I didn’t go into coma.
Let me explain.
During the novel both characters fall in love with the most boring objects known to man (ok… maybe I’m being dramatic). Werner becomes the master of the radio while Marie-Laure fancies snails. If I were told this beforehand I think I would have skipped the book. Radios could have easily been another character. And yet, I was interested.
So yes, the actual words that are written are important, but I think the skill level needed to avoid making otherwise dull subjects boring, and instead captivate the reader, is just as important. That’s what makes a great writer.
In The Margins:
- Some books lend perfectly to audio, sadly All the Light does not. Due to the construction of the narrative the experience is very confusing. If you wish to read it I would get a physical copy.
- Geez, I didn’t even touch on the whole sub-plot. One word review: Awesome.
- Next Week: The Martian by Andy Weir (finally!)