Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thoughts on All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

I just finished All The Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr.  The short version?  It was okay.  It didn't offend me and I don't think I wasted my time reading it, but I don't think it was really my thing.  It was too literary.

I'm not even passionate enough about it to say too much what I did or didn't like, save in rough.  There are some pretty words and some superficial meanings.  Lessons were learned, but they were lessons I think every reasonably intelligent human already knows - war is terrible, innocents suffer, not all Germans in World War II were evil, hideous and pointless things happen in war and afterward the survivors go on.

If you like symbolism, you'll probably like this book, though.  There's a whole lot of lights a person can't see and ways of interpreting this metaphor.  You can really sit back and think about all the light we can't see.  If you like wrapping yourself in metaphor, you'll probably think more about this book than I did.

To the extent that I am confused by it, though, is that I have absolutely no idea why some quest to find a potentially magic rock was involved at all.  I understand why the potentially magic rock was there - I guess you can't have magical realism without some of that - but the bad guy's quest to use it as his philosopher's stone seemed tacked on because otherwise the love story would be too insipid for words, I think.  It could have been done better, even within the construct of the novel, I think.  Which is a fairly slight critique.

My bigger critique is that I feel that the novel did nothing to link the kinds of stupidity that happened then to any modern stupidity.  This book was written in the particular context of a time and place - this time, this place.  To write a novel about war and do nothing to bring it home that we, today, are engaged in a number of military conflicts around the world seems cowardly.  But the novel is very clear NOT to do that, even though it contains passages that are very modern, none of those people notice the Vietnam War or the modern wars on terror.  No comment was made or, I think, implied about anything modern, except to suggest that the evil dies with us and our good lives on.  As one of the people who read the book with me said, "The book doesn't judge either side."  I pointed out it wasn't a particular virtue to refrain from judging Nazis - they were the bad guys - and that it's okay to judge war since it is so terrible.  I will add, here, than a failure to judge war is itself a judgment.  By taking a "shit happens and life goes on" approach, well, that smacks of nihilism, or would if Doerr were making a point.  But he isn't.  He's just ignoring it, which I find chicken.  That's my serious critique, but I doubt most readers will care about it.

You can google the title to read about the particulars.  If you like that sort of thing, you'll probably like the book.

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