Doerr could easily have written one of many average novels on World War Two. He has managed to add something to his novel by his style of writing: Doerr is the observer, he tells a story, he does not add his own feelings. He also manages to avoid sentimental plots. He could easily have had his main characters Marie-Laure and Werner live happily ever after. From the start it is clear that the young German electronics wizz and the French blind girl are destined to meet. When this finally happens, Doerr chooses to let them go their separate ways. Doerr finally adds ‘edge’ to his novel by describing the way young German boys are brainwashed to condemn weakness in themselves, in their enemies and in their friends. Werner is powerless to act when his friend Frederick is chosen to be the weakest link and is beaten again and again; it makes for a scene that you will not easily forget.
In All The Light We Cannot See two plots gradually come together: Werner, using his skills with radio’s in World War 2 and Marie-Laure, being taken from Paris to Saint-Malo to go and live with her great-uncle. Doerr skillfully develops the plots, going back and forth in time and prepares for the moment they finally meet. Which leads me to the weakest aspect of the novel. Marie-Laure’s father has been made responsible for a priceless jewel which has to be saved from the Germans. This jewel is sought by a German officer who believes the tale that it saves the life of its owner; dying of cancer he is rather desperate to find it. Doerr was probably not aware of the fact that his German rather resembled Colonel Flick, from Hallo Hallo. As an American he probably never saw that show, I did and it made Doerr’s officer barge upon caricature. It’s a detail however in an otherwise strong novel. I was pleasantly surprised by All the Light We Cannot See, it’s not just one of many novels on WW2, it definitely stands out.