Friday, December 30, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I finished this novel yesterday after a marathon session.  I guess I am of the opinion that reading a novel should not be a life commitment, but apparently I am wrong in that opinion.  I have a copy of The Goldfinch that I would like to continue, but 800+ pages just daunts me after finishing Doer's book.

Not to say I didn't enjoy it.  I did, and usually found it hard to put down.  I am just reluctant to recommend a book that is so long (about 540 pages).  It is not dense, but it does take some getting used to because of the converging timelines.  I am not convinced it needed to be that long.

I read the criticisms people put on Amazon and I often want to say, "Ok, you are a reader, but have you ever really tried to write a real novel?"  I have, many times, and succeeded five, so I have a clearer sense, I think,of what he has accomplished here. And from a craft perspective, I am awed.  It was one of those books where I say to myself, "you really have no business writing."  Really rich prose (occasionally a bit too rich, so that not all the metaphors work, are too hyperbolic, such as describing a really large man as having "acreage of chest.")  A lot of heart; who cannot feel great sympathy for Marie-Laure, Werner (even as a young forced-to-be Nazi soldier), Jutta, Frau Elena, Madame Manec, and Etienne.

So the characters, I think, are as rich as the metaphors.  Werner, like Huckleberry Finn, has to deal with his growing conscience but for the most part he fails, except to be able to save Marie-Laure. Does that make up for his part in murders by Volkheimer?

Likewise there is nothing here of the Holocaust, just the people suffering through war as anyone would.  Jutta as a middle-aged woman does not even think about it.  Which brings me to my main criticism:  I don't think the 1970s epilogue was necessary, and the book should have just ended with us knowing that Marie-Laure was reunited with her uncle and went back to Paris.  I did not like her as an adult (and had a hard time believing she would get a doctorate in the sciences as a blind person).  I also thought the gang rape scene at the end of the war was totally unnecessary, as do others; it was just thrown in without heart or empathy.  What happened to all of them in thirty years is a different novel.

I don't have an opinion about the Sea of Flames plotline.  I really don't.  

One criticism of others I didn't agree with, however, was the coincidences.  We all have intersections in our lives that seem like coincidences.  Every encounter has the potential to seem coincidental but they are the result of hundreds of spaghetti strands of paths that bring us together.  I have had many, ones that boggle my family's minds.  It's just a matter of being open to them.  Werner was looking for the radio broadcasts-it was his job, so he found them.

So, I won't be digging into another novel again, since that one was so involving.  But I am glad I read it.  Other people are always trying to get me to read books (book clubs, etc.) and I like to oblige but my goal in life is to live only by my agenda (which should be God's) and no one else's.

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