All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot SeeBook Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author:  Anthony Doerr
Imprint: Scribner
Published: 2014
Pages: 544
ISBN: 978-1-5011-0456-5
Stars:  4.0

I am not usually drawn to novels set during World War II.  Maybe it’s because I am half German, and have no desire whatsoever to read anything about Hitler, particularly now that we are living in a political climate fuelled by a buffoon dictator just south of the border, in 2017. I do, however, love stories set in Paris, which is why I decided to give this book a try, although it was also enthusiastically recommended to me by my good friend Deborah Ledon who did not steer me wrong with her last recommendation.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel, is a work of art in more ways than one.  Each short chapter is like a photograph come to life, filled with colour, texture, and light, revealing one image, a small piece of the story. Doerr’s prose is so beautiful that we cannot put the book down for wanting to experience, with all of our senses, that next piece of the story. And all of our senses are heightened as we do.

The book begins on 7 August 1944 as Germany is bombing France, or more specifically, Saint-Malo, France, as a 16-year-old blind girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a table at Number 4 rue Vauborel, holding a model of the city in miniature. She knows every centimetre of the model by touch and has memorized its street names. She can hear the bombers, who are three miles away, approaching Saint-Malo.

“Five streets to the north, a white-haired 18-year-old German private named Werner Pfennig wakes to a faint staccato hum.” He is in the Hotel of Bees, a once cheerful address where Parisians would stay on weekend holidays. Werner is in the building when bombers brandishing high-velocity anti-air guns known as 88s start to destroy everything in the vicinity of the hotel. What, we wonder, could possibly happen next?

Compelled to turn the pages of each short chapter, we study them as if they are photographs on exhibition in an art gallery. As we move through each chapter in the first 90 pages of the book, a ten-year history of these two main characters is revealed in snapshot after snapshot.

We learn about the curse of an ancient blue diamond containing a touch of red at its center, known as the Sea of Flames. The 133 carat diamond has been locked up in a cleverly disguised vault in the basement of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris where Marie-Laure’s father works as the principal locksmith.

We also learn that Werner was raised with his sister Jutta, in a Children’s Home in Zollverein, a coal-mining complex near Essen, Germany by a kind woman named Frau Elena, and that young Werner, who has a love of science, also possesses a knack for repairing radios, which may just save him from having to work in the coal mines like all of the other 15-year-old boys in the region.

Sergeant Major Reinhold Von Rumpel, a gemologist before the war, now works for the Reich. It is his mission to find the Sea of Flames for the Führer for his proposed empyrean city in Linz, Austria, at the center of which he plans to build a kilometre-long museum filled with the greatest treasures in all of Europe and Russia.

The author flips us back and forth between what is happening to Marie-Laure and what is happening to Werner from 1934 to 1944, his exquisite writing moving with the pace of a suspense thriller. And then he starts to weave in the story of Von Rumpel and we slowly discover how all three characters’ lives will intersect.

Werner’s story is particularly heart-wrenching as he is recruited by the Reich – who force 14-year-old boys to train for their Machiavellian purposes – always weeding out the weakest, with unbelievable cruelty, while staying focused on building their superior Aryan race. Werner is small, sensitive and very smart and he dreams of becoming an engineer. He tries with all his strength to hold onto those dreams as the grim realization of his situation becomes evident and he slowly understands just how evil the force that he has had to follow and support really is.

By the time I read half of this novel, my guts were gripped by the horror of how vicious human beings can be and I cried as I was reminded that although we earthlings have endured two World Wars, so many of us don’t seem to have learned anything from them as the current political state of affairs in much of the world can attest to.

However, it is the indestructible optimism and resilience of the spiritually strong, like Marie-Laure,  who give us hope that things can change for the positive in the future. When one’s will to live is as strong as hers, there may be no limit to what we can endure. However, the price we pay for surviving the struggle is steep.

By the time I read half of this book, I was filled with sadness. This is not the type of book I should be reading as throughout this winter I have struggled with stress and depression. I read on because I had to know what happens to these characters in whom I had become deeply invested. There has to be some light at the end of this literary tunnel, some redemption, joy even. After all, the title is All The Light We Cannot See…but by page 400 there is still no light.

By the time I had almost finished the book, I could barely read the last 50 pages because of the ugly, depressing, soul-destroying events that occur page after page in relentless succession. Surely there can be no light in reliving this dismal history? I understand Doerr’s metaphors and by the end of the book I could see the light he refers to in the title, but that light just didn’t shine brightly enough to make me feel that reading this book was a gift and something that I shouldn’t have missed out on. The novel has its share of beauty and light, to be sure, but the cold, hard facts of what people endured in World War II at the hands of a fascist dictator are definitely not something I ever want to relive in a story, of any kind, ever again.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (My All-Time Favourite Series of Books)

Outlander by Diana GabaldonBook Review
Title: Outlander
Author:  Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Seal Books
Released: October 9, 2001
Pages: 896
ISBN-10: 0770428797
ISBN13: 978-0770428792
Stars:  5.0

Like millions of other Outlander fans, I’ve been watching the new Starz television series of the same name and LOVE it! I think the producers have done an excellent job of staying true to the book and I’m sure that’s because author Diana Gabaldon is a consultant for the series. The casting of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan as Claire & Jamie Fraser and Tobias Menzies as Frank/Black Jack Randall is perfect, and even though the casting of Dougal MacKenzie seems wrong because Graham McTavish doesn’t look like Dougal and seems too old for the part, he is doing a great job with it. I can’t wait to see what comes next…although having to wait for April 2015 to see the second part of Season 1 is PAINFUL!!

Needless to say the Outlander series of books are those which fans read over and over again. While I’m not a super-duper obsessed fan, I have always named Diana Gabaldon as my favourite author since I read the first four novels in the late 90’s. Then, like everyone else, I waited and waited and waited for the next books to be written and in the meantime, I had theChristine Bode meets Diana Gabaldon for the second time great pleasure of meeting Diana Gabaldon twice at book signings…once after the release of A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005) and once after the release of Lord John and The Brotherhood of The Blade (2007).

I own all of her novels but I haven’t read the last two books in the Outlander series yet and that’s because I decided that I would have to make the time to re-read the series in order, back to back, so that everything would be fresh in my mind. I read A Breath of Snow and Ashes when it came out and haven’t read another of her books since. So, now is the time! The television series has inspired me and the next year will be the year of Diana Gabaldon for me. And what a sensational year of reading it will be!!

I finished reading Outlander for the second time at 3:00 am this morning. It took me two weeks and two days, and that’s with reading at least a couple of chapters a day. These mammoth tomes are hard for an engaged reader to put down so that they can sleep, work or just get on with their day. I know they’re very long novels, but I swear that every chapter is captivating.

Although there have been an army of authors who have tried to replicate the success of these novels for themselves, no one else has come close to the popularity of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. This very intelligent woman, who happens to hold three science degrees including a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, has sold over 25 million copies (the books have been published in 26 countries and in 23 languages) and continues to live happily with her husband in Scottsdale, Arizona. Diana Gabaldon is an extremely smart, charming, witty and beautiful woman and that’s why her books have stolen the hearts of so many people.

I’m going to reiterate what Outlander is about using Diana’s own words:

“In 1946, after WWII, a young Englishwoman named Claire Beauchamp Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank. She’s an ex-combat nurse, he’s been in the army as well, they’ve been separated for the last six years, and this is a second honeymoon; they’re getting re-acquainted with each other, thinking of starting a family. But one day Claire goes out walking by herself, and comes across a circle of standing stones—such circles are in fact common all over northern Britain.  She walks through a cleft stone in the circle…and disappears. Back into 1743, where the first person she meets is a gentleman in an 18th-century army officer’s uniform. This gentleman, Jack Randall, looks just like her husband Frank—and proves to be Frank’s six-times-great-grandfather. Unfortunately, he also proves to be a sadistic bisexual pervert, and while trying to escape from him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Highland Scots, who are also trying to get away from Black Jack Randall—though for other reasons.

In order to avoid being handed over to Captain Randall, Claire is obliged to marry one of the young clansmen. So she finds herself trying to escape from Castle Leoch and her Scottish captors, trying to get back to her husband Frank, trying to avoid being recaptured by Captain Randall—and falling in love with Jamie Fraser, the young man she’s been forced to marry. The story rolls on from there…”

And what an amazing, fantastic, romantic, adventurous, historical story it is!!

There’s not much more that I can add about Outlander except to say that if you haven’t read this series yet, do it! Now!! Before you die, you have to read at least the 8 novels that are currently in print (if you skip the Lord John Grey novels, you’ll be forgiven, but you should read them too) because I guarantee you, that if you love romantic, historical, adventurous, fantastical stories, no finer have ever been written. And no ladies, Jamie Fraser does not actually exist. A man like that is purely a fictional creation! Amen.

NOTE: Chapters Kingston is now selling the Outlander series (except for Written In My Own Heart’s Blood) for 2 for $15!

 

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Book Review
Title: Three Graves Full
Author: Jamie Mason
Publisher: Gallery Books
Released: February 12, 2013
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 1451685033
ISBN-13: 978-1451685039
Stars: 4.0


“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”  This is the first line of North Carolina author Jamie Mason’s debut novel, Three Graves Full.  The first chapter is so compelling that you can’t help but keep reading this delightfully macabre tale, laced with black humour and tied up with suspense.

Every event is boxed in by a set of facts; the truth as it were.  There’s the what and the when of a deed; there’s where it happened and how it was done.  But it’s at the why that the liar’s margin begins.  It’s from this border that we launch the justifications for everything we do, and for all that we allow to be done to us.  Only our distance from the hard truth and the direction of our push – toward or away from it – is the measure of our virtue.

The protagonist, Jason Getty, is a meek and insecure widower living alone in his little house on Old Green Valley Road in suburban Stillwater, MI.  Well, he’s not entirely alone…as those who live with a deep, dark secret know.  He’s a murderer.  But like Dexter, he’s a killer that we can empathize with as we begin to understand the circumstances surrounding the fateful night that has left his conscience in agony seventeen months later.  He doesn’t eat and doesn’t sleep, but somnambulates through his boring life as an office clerk, rationalizing that “no worry has ever been invented that the mind cannot bully down into mere background noise.”

Little by little Jason finds himself relaxing and able to think about normal things.  Worried about what his neighbours will think of his unkempt property, he hires a landscaping crew to clean it up.  However, on the second day of the job they discover two graves in his backyard that Jason didn’t dig.  Although terrified, he’s forced to call the police to deal with the grisly discovery, all the while praying that they don’t find the third grave.

Next, we meet Leah Tamblin, the grieving girlfriend of the missing young man (Reid) found buried in Jason’s backyard, whom as it turns out, was cheating on her with the married woman (Katielynn Montgomery) found buried beside him.  It seems that Boyd Montgomery, a hardened redneck who named his dogs after The Beatles, didn’t take kindly to discovering that his wife was screwing another man, and from this point on, in a horrifying comedy of errors, action ensues as the plot thickens.

Detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts (who I envisioned as actor David Morse), accompanied by his devoted and very intelligent dog Tessa, round out the main cast of characters. After all, someone has to solve this mystery!  I loved that Mason made Tessa a main character and gave her a voice (frequently written from a first person/canine viewpoint) that this dog owner could easily identify with.  Chocked full of hilarious one-liners and unusually well-written and fully realized characters, Three Graves Full will make an excellent screenplay that’ll be a joy to cast, and with just the right cool soundtrack, could end up being a celluloid cult classic.

Mason’s narrative is fast-paced, sharp and scathingly witty.  Her innovative story takes us on a ride not unlike the one we experience when watching a Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Quentin Tarantino or Coen brothers’ film.  Her development of Jason’s internal conflict and the inevitability of his having to face the consequences of his actions is superb. You’ll laugh and squirm at the same time as you viscerally experience the unhinging of his sanity.

Simon & Schuster were wise to buy her manuscript as Jamie Mason’s clever, unique voice and piercing prose is so much better than the average pulp fiction.  When this book is released on February 12, 2013, I urge you to buy it.