Thursday, February 4, 2016

All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 It is difficult to assign a title to a story in a way that it conveys the essence of the story and touches its core. Anthony Doerr has succeeded in overcoming this difficulty, brilliantly. All the Light WCannot See is a story about the physical absence of light - in case of its blind protagonist Marie-Laure LeBlanc - as well as metaphorical absence – in case of the other protagonist, an orphan German boy, Werner PfennigGrowing up on opposite sides of history, these two young people bring alive the sweeping tragedy of the Second World War and the horrible events in  Germany, Russia and France. Their lives play out independent of each other yet destiny brings them together at a crucial juncture, both of their lives and that of the War. This parable is sweeping yet intimate, panoramic yet microscopic. Told in two voices in alternating chapters, this is not an example that a novice writer might follow in terms of the theory of writing. The edicts of point of view, structure, character arc, scene-sequel etc are upended in favor of short chapters and shorter paragraphs and sentences that convey just enough information for the reader to make up his mind. Doerr appeals to all of the reader’s senses except the sighin scenes where Marie Laure's point of view is expressed and uses detailed, scientific enquiry when the story features Werner. The pace is crisp and the language, exquisite. The story gallops through the final years of the War yet finds time to languish in little alleyways and nooks and corners long enough to engulf the reader and transport them into its core. There is a surreal, almost magical nature to the entire story. If it were to be made on screen, it would be made in a sepia tone, with bright flashes of color in between to jolt the viewer out of their lassitude.  

The writer’s tone feels apologetic, at times, as if he is sad to tell you a story which may make you cry in the end. But he holds your hand the entire way and does not rush you; letting you enjoy the melancholy or ecstasy by your own timetable.  The secondary characters are  well-developedeverything and everyone is in the story for a reason. I would have liked it even more, if it was slightly shorter. The last three or four chapters felt extraneous, as if Doerr was having so much fun with his characters that he did not want to let them go. And I for one, do not blame him.