This one’s for you if you’re ready for a long and quite complicated novel.
“All the light we Cannot See” follows a blind girl from Paris who lives in Saint Malo during WWII, and an orphan called Werner who has great skill with radios and is recruited by the German military. I have never read a book over 500 pages long with so many chapters of 5 pages or less. At times I found this infuriating- no sooner had you remembered what was happening to one character/in one strand of the story before it switched again. Admittedly, my frustration is probably more a reflection of my lack of patience than any fault with the book which truly is a masterpiece in storytelling. After the first couple of hundred pages of setting the scene, you get that lovely feeling where a novel grips your hands to the page, forcing you to read on, past the point when you normally go to bed, and past the point when your eyelids become heavy as lead. I often fall into the trap of reading non fiction “to learn” and fiction “to relax”. But to do this is to under appreciate how much we can learn from reading such beautiful language, describing the very feelings and emotions that make us human. Language that someone like me can only marvel at.
To answer the question how does it feel to be blind? “It doesn’t hurt, she explains, and there is no darkness, not the kind they imagine. Everything is composed of webs and lattices and upheavals of sound and texture.” p44
“And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.” p70 1934 in Paris.
“in a moment of disorientation, he feels that he’s looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloodshot water, and the sky has become the sea, and airplanes are hungry fish, harrying prey in the dark.” p91
At a military training school for young Germans “You will become like a waterfall, a volley of bullets- you will all surge in the same direction at the same pace toward the same cause. You will forgo comforts; you will live by duty alone. You will eat country and breathe nation.” p137
Marie Laure describing sand “It’s like cold silk. Cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid offerings: pebbles, shells, barnacles.” p232
“Don’t you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don’t you ever want proof?” p292. There are so many different situations in life that I think this feeling relates to- moments of doubt and weakness.
“Marie-Laure paces the staircase, up and down, up and down, as though working her way up and down the spire of an enormous seashell.” p298
During a time when Marie-Laure is stuck in the attic while a soldier searches the house beneath: “Out in the world waits a multitude of sanctuaries- gardens full of bright green wind; kingdoms of hedges; deep pools of forest shade through which butterflies float thinking only of nectar. She can get to none of them.” p305
I have never read a better description of an adrenaline rush “The heart scrambling to deliver oxygenated blood, the mind scrambling to unravel the situation.” p312
Still stuck in the attic “Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and it’s string might sail out of your hands, forever.” p376
“For these past days- how many?- it has felt as though the hunger were a hand inside of him, thrusting around in the cavity of his chest, reaching up to his shoulder blades, then down into his pelvis. Scraping at his bones.” p449
“To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.” p476
My favourite quote of all is on p529:”Torrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of television programmes, of e-mail, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters in Metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefour and Evian and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to Earth again, I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail and appointment reminders and market updates, jewellery ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever-shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths?”