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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Anthony Doerr, the great researcher

Hats off to Anthony Doerr as the most diligent of researchers among contemporary novelists. Just looking at the subject matter that he has to master - or at least pillage for vocabulary words - in All the Light We Cannot See - is a head-spinner: early radio manufacture, gemology and mineralogy, WWII from both Allied and Axis sides, locks and puzzles, medical aspects of blindness, probably more as well but that's a start - and his research generally serves him well and gives his novel a feeling of assurance, confidence, and exotic arcana - even if sometimes, as in the walk down the corridor of the museum of natural history, in Paris, when it feels as if Doerr has stopped the plot and is just showing off. That aside, and also setting aside some grand coincidences (just so happens that the radio broadcasts Werner listened to as a child emanated from the very town where he is holed up during the war) this remains a strong book driven by its sense of place and of history rather than by character. The scenes in which young Werner is in what's essentially a Nazi boot camp are especially powerful: the boys ordered to chase and attack the weakest among them, for example. I'm about 200 pp in and not sure how he will sustain the narrative for 500 - esp as he seems to have begun the novel with dramatic climax (Saint-Malo under seige and the two protagonists, Marie-Laure and Werner, whose stories unfold in alternating chapters both alone in the city under allied air attack).

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