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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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blind on blind: All the Light We Cannot See

Alternative between two points of view - a teenage a blind teenage Parisian girl, Marie, who is huddled in her room in the French coastal town of Saint Malo as the allied forces bomb the occupied city in the weeks after D-Day and an Austrian solider, Verner, in Saint Malo who retreats to a basement bomb shelter and monitors the battle by his radio - where will Anthony Doerr possibly go with this material? It's a very long (+500 pp) novel and I'm only about 50 pages in but wondering if he can sustain this heightened and precious narrative: is it some kind of love story, will the two characters come together somehow? - after an introduction to the two in 1944 during the bombing raid he umps back about 10 years and we see, in alternate very short chapters, the Austrian as a young man and his early fascination with radios and Marie as a young girl losing her eyesight as her father, who works at the science museum in Paris, carefully preparing her to get by in the city using her other senses. This section also provides Doerr with multiple opportunities to describe the arcana in the museum - feels like somewhat familiar territory, as many writers for some reason are fascinated with the topical and technical details of French museum collections: this part somehow reminds me of Kurzweil and of Susskind - and the details are all well and good so long as they serve a narrative purpose and are not just flourishes and writerly curlicues. So much promising writing in first 50 pages but I wonder how and if Doerr can develop this story. To do so, he has to make these characters "real," that is, give them some kind of inner life: they feel so far too authorial, vehicles for Doerr to showcase his skills and obscure interests. Another challenge will be the extent to which he can build any sympathy whatsoever for an Axis soldier: I realize there were plenty of young men drafted into military service who probably didn't abide by the Nazi ideology, but at least show us some interior struggle he's going through in serving the Nazi war machine. Otherwise, screw him.

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