21st Century Literature discussion

All the Light We Cannot See
This topic is about All the Light We Cannot See
141 views
2014 Book Discussions > All the Light We Cannot See - General Discussion [No Spoilers] (November 2014)

Comments Showing 1-50 of 67 (67 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

Terry Pearce This topic is for general discussion of the book, links to interviews with the author, etc. Please don't post any spoilers here.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2306 comments Here's a link to the NY Times review by Janet Maslin - http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/boo... - and to the interview it references - http://www.powells.com/blog/interview....

As with many reviews/interviews, they may tell you more than you want to know, if you are someone who skips the blurbs on book covers.

I finished the book a week or so ago but am holding off writing my review for awhile, as I find the discussions here always help me focus better on what I liked or might not have liked in a book and hence make for a better review!


Sandra | 114 comments Just picked this up from the library today and will start it tonight.


message 4: by Pip (new)

Pip | 102 comments 46 comments already in the "whole book" thread?? Wait for me! I haven't even got my copy yet!! Ha ha, don't worry. Even if I don't get to join in the discussion in a timely fashion, I know I'll enjoy reading everyone's posts :-)


Sandra | 114 comments I'm really enjoying this book. It reads fast because you can't put it down!


Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Sandra wrote: "I'm really enjoying this book. It reads fast because you can't put it down!"

That was pretty much the way I felt on my first read -- at least once I got into the story.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Nov 13, 2014 08:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments I hope there are still readers out there working on this book and planning to post. I'd particularly like to "hear" comments about the various characters, each of which very much captured my attention -- and each in a very different way. These are characters that I doubt I shall forget.

Also, would it be helpful to have some additional categories for this discussion, either by character or by section of the book, since the discussion "with spoilers" is getting so long? I don't personally have a good sense as to what might be conducive to further discussion, but it seems to me this book has so much to it that if others have ideas, I suspect Terry would be open to giving us additional threads. (We could at least ask him. [g])

I'd love to hear comments on the significance to the story telling of Marie's blindness and the model towns her father builds. Since this is probably a "spoiler" topic, I'll take it over to the other thread.


Terry Pearce Hey Lily.

It's a continuing debate as to whether less threads or more are helpful. I myself often feel that a single thread gets unwieldy, but sometimes when we split it out, we get cross-referencing and other category difficulty, and find that some threads see little action with much going in whichever seems the most general/final.

Which is not to say I'm down on the side of just the two -- I try a little of that sometimes and a little of splitting the book out at other times (particularly when the book itself suggests categories).

Character would seem to me to suit here, so I'll start one for Marie and another for Werner and see how they go, maybe adding more for the minor characters if they take off. How does that sound?


Terry Pearce Okay, in the end I just did one thread for [everyone else except Werner and Marie] as well. Four spoiler threads plus one non-spoiler is a good number, I think.


message 10: by Lily (last edited Nov 14, 2014 06:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Terry wrote: "Okay, in the end I just did one thread for [everyone else except Werner and Marie] as well. Four spoiler threads plus one non-spoiler is a good number, I think."

Thanks, Terry. I don't know what the "magic" is either, which is why I raised the issue as a question. We'll give this a try. Among the categories I find myself thinking about on this novel are 1) the various characters -- who and why and what are they in the story and how does one as a reader react to each one 2) the structure -- why, why, why did Doerr do what he did and how hard does one have to read it for the structure to make sense (especially the short chapters and the time sequences, but what else on structure do other readers particularly notice) 3) the writing itself -- the lushness so many seem to talk about 4) what does this novel contribute to what seems like a recent proliferation of novels about ordinary people's experiences of surviving WWII and its immediate aftermath. (Life After Life, War Brides, The Postmistress, ... -- other than perhaps LaL, these probably are not the "correct" ones to compare, but are only intended to be suggestive at a time when I don't feel like doing the research to go a little deeper.)


message 11: by Pip (last edited Nov 13, 2014 04:30PM) (new)

Pip | 102 comments Thank you, Lily and Terry, for setting up more threads.

I'd postponed starting All The Light because I thought I'd never have time to catch up with the discussion, and I have many other things on my literary plate.

If I can, I'll get going before the month is out and contribute. In case I can't, though, it will be easier and more pleasurable to review the discussion here in the future knowing it has been broken down into manageable chunks.

Has anybody else had the experience of reading a novel and then looking up the discussion which their favourite group had on it long before they even joined Goodreads?

I also like the idea of dividing discussion by themes, characters or...whatever the particular novel lends itself to. Chronological order of chapters is the usual way to go but, unless dealing with chunksters, that may not always promote the most involving discussion.


Terry Pearce I've gone off chronological except where there are very distinct, sharply divided parts . Most people don't mark the end of sections all that well in their heads, so when they're commenting on a point far back, it's often hard for them to work out which bit the comment should go into, and they're afraid of spoiling accidentally.


message 13: by Lily (last edited Nov 14, 2014 06:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Terry wrote: "I've gone off chronological except where there are very distinct, sharply divided parts . Most people don't mark the end of sections all that well in their heads, so when they're commenting on a po..."

Point well taken, Terry. And I think that is probably even tougher in these days of so many not chronological timelines. It becomes hard to guess/remember/figure out where a comment belongs, perhaps in part because our own minds rearrange again from whatever the author has done as we put piece parts together.

I would appreciate some comments beyond "like", "dislike," "confusing," on Doerr's structure choices for this novel -- the short chapters, the shifted chronologies, .... And more from the perspective my recent writing instructor imposed on us -- what works rather than what doesn't work. Beyond what she allowed us to do, I am curious about the "why's/what's of writing/reading" -- why does something work, what does it accomplish, why might the writer have chosen this technique, when is the writing process in sync with the reading process and what is a writer doing when he may be deliberately challenging an easy relationship, how do we as readers develop the skills to use/assimilate what the writer gives us, ....


message 14: by Lacewing (last edited Nov 24, 2014 08:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lacewing Lily@13: By my last count, there are close to 42 bajillion ways to make literary art, or any art. That said, and more pertinent to your query and to what I see in Doerr's technique is that the short chapters correspond (roughly, if you squint just right) to poetic stanzas. Or, if you like, think of it as presenting snapshots, as if from a family album, except that this family album is drawn from history.

What's different from some other narratives is that the linkages are not on the page. If we're used to reading texts that explicate all the interior ramblings and justifications, etc., this snapshot/stanza technique seems sparse.

To me, such treatment is actually quite realistic: all I have of history are bits and pieces, and I do indeed select for effect. Besides which, even those who lived through historical times -- and these, too, are historical times -- only ever have limited experience, often biased. (Where bias is influenced by both preference and readiness.)

AND: the narrative cause-and-effect default (habit?) is not, in my experience, how we actually put things together. Linearity along a time-line is a result of writers' and readers' communication, and may be mostly a cultural convention. (I have been known to wonder if it's an artifact of the urge to rationalize and justify ourselves to ourselves and to each other.)


Kerri | 17 comments Lily wrote: "Terry wrote: "I've gone off chronological except where there are very distinct, sharply divided parts . Most people don't mark the end of sections all that well in their heads, so when they're comm..."

As I was reading, I felt like the short shuffled chapters added mystery and dramatic tension. I wasn't paying much attention to the dates at first, but soon realized that we were moving back and forth, and started putting the puzzle together.

There was a chapter when Van Rumpel entered Marie's home, and it felt like forever before the next piece of that story showed up again. I was reading voraciously, hoping the next chapter would continue where the other had left off. I felt like there was too much time between that one cliff hanger and the resolution, but I enjoyed the effect jumping around had on my reading.


message 16: by Lily (last edited Nov 24, 2014 09:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Kerri wrote: " I wasn't paying much attention to the dates at first, but soon realized that we were moving back and forth, and started putting the puzzle together...."

First, let me say that I appreciate the discussion you and Lacewing are creating. It is part of the exploration of what, for me, is a lovely piece of writing, but which I have felt I, by myself, wasn't experiencing/feeling as deeply as the storytelling justified.

Second, your comment about "putting a puzzle together" contrasts, yet meshes, so well with Lacewing's comments about how we experience life and create memories. You two make me consider the templates or "edge pieces" that we use to organize the sensations we receive. The light we do see?

Versus the light fractured by the facets of a diamond? Obscured by the algae of the sea?


message 17: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Lacewing wrote: "Lily@13: By my last count, there are close to 42 bajillion ways to make literary art, or any art. ..."

LOL! If you've gotten to 42 bajillion, may you never lose count, but as one of the guys in college said, 'When you are hurrying across campus from the library to your dorm, don't forget to look up and note the stars in the sky.' Of course, that campus was far from the city lights of today.

Thx for your post, Lacewing. Much to consider.

"Above Fort National, the dawn becomes deeply, murderously clear. The Milky Way a fading river. He looks across to the fires. He thinks: The universe is full of fuel."

Doerr, Anthony (2014-05-06). All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel (p. 444). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

"The moon sets and the eastern sky lightens, the hem of night pulling away, taking stars with it one by one until only two are left. Vega, maybe. Or Venus. He never learned.

Ibid., p. 202.

"Hours later, he wakes to see the silhouette of an airplane blot stars as it hurtles east. It makes a soft tearing sound as it passes overhead. Then it disappears. The ground concusses a moment later."

Ibid., p. 90.

"As the weeks pass, with Jutta asleep beside him, Werner looks out into the night sky, and restlessness surges through him. Life: it’s happening beyond the mills, beyond the gates. Out there people chase questions of great importance. He imagines himself as a tall white-coated engineer striding into a laboratory: cauldrons steam, machinery rumbles, complex charts paper the walls. He carries a lantern up a winding staircase to a starlit observatory and looks through the eyepiece of a great telescope, its mouth pointed into the black."

Ibid., p. 54.

"...Soon enough, the navigators can discern the low moonlit lumps of islands ranged along the horizon. France."

Ibid., p. 4.

"...Depart immediately to open country.

"The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous...."

Ibid., p. 3.

I've had a sense of the sky tracing itself through the novel. The above is a brief exploration of whether that sense is valid.


message 18: by Lacewing (last edited Nov 24, 2014 11:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lacewing Totally cool, Lily, the quotes you've pulled @18. Sky for you, sea for me. Waves eddying and mixing it up. On my next reading, I'll pay attention line by line and maybe see how I came to that focus.

And Kerri, yes, the dramatic tension: I'm just now fitting that into how, by using this fractured technique, he's exemplifying the way stories get put together. Funny how that happens, that something comes to the surface and you feel like, Yes, I knew that but I didn't know that I knew it!


message 19: by Lily (last edited Nov 30, 2014 08:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Tracy wrote: "I am only half way through this book on the last day of the month. I don't think I will finish it today."

I'll be glad to watch for anything you might want to post, Tracy. Threads stay open (forever?).

I liked this book a lot and am rather sorry it has not generated more discussion. I feel as if maybe I could have done more in the way of pulling some of the lovely or surprising passages.

But if you have any ideas, do put them out for us.


Dr. Cat (ecospirit) | 20 comments I would have loved to participate in the discussion, but I was reading the book throughout November, and didn't finish until toward the end of the month. Most of the discussion I saw was "with spoilers", implying most people had already finished it, so I didn't want to read the posts (or respond) until I finished the book. I'm wondering if when you say we'll be discussing a book in November that really means, finish the book by November 1. Just askin' ... :-)


message 21: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Cat wrote: "I would have loved to participate in the discussion, but I was reading the book throughout November, and didn't finish until toward the end of the month. Most of the discussion I saw was "with spoi..."

It isn't supposed to. But my own experience is that on this board there is little scheduling of the book out over the month, so I have sort of given in to the reality of that. Some of the threads try to indicate no spoilers, but after a few weeks, with discussions going in multiple directions, in my experience here, it becomes difficult to maintain, especially if the thread still applies to the entire book. But, it takes a lot of moderator time and discipline to schedule a book out over a month, and I don't know if we as readers really have too much right to ask such of volunteers who have myriad daily responsibilities. Of course, I happen to be one of those who questions what spoilers are and whether they need disturb a read. But, I know many hold other other views and consider any foreknowledge to sabotage their reading experience, rather than giving the comfort to sit back and savor the writing. Since I am one to often read ahead for a plot so I can go back and read more slowly to savor the writing and to explore how the author has devolved that plot, I must admit to encouraging others to have the flexibility that permits indulging in discussions as they read, even if there probably is a risk some "surprise" will be forewarned before actually encountered. But, reading can be a very personal exercise. To some extent, it gets even messier as authors play with and invert time sequences in what they write. It seems to me in AtLWCS the author himself introduces what might be called "spoilers" in the opening pages -- passages that are not 'understood' until much later in the book. At least, that is my impression as I have been re-reading -- which I think this book deserves -- my reaction has often been -- oh, I didn't get that when I originally read that passage, but, boy, it's obvious now.


message 22: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments I really, really liked this book and will definitely engage in any discussion if others continue to post. I have borrowed a friend's hard copy and would like to get through that before returning to her, although I also purchased the Kindle version, after originally reading it as a library borrowed ebook.


Dr. Cat (ecospirit) | 20 comments I was frankly hesitant to enter into another journey through the horrors of WWII, but I am glad I did. Although there were parts that, as expected, were difficult to experience, there was a positive spirit throughout. The well-crafted back and forth in time and between characters worked for me.


Terry Pearce Definitely keep discussing as long as you fin it worthwhile.

Lily, I like much of what you say, particularly about spoilers being a self-defined issue. Reading is a very personal experience.

However, I don't see authors playing with timelines as a factor, because I don't see spoilers as spoiling what's to come later in the actual chronology, but in the author's chosen structure/sequence of unveiling. If the author chooses to start at the end chronologically, by definition that's not a spoiler for me.

But if you don't consider anything a spoiler [which is fine, especially when you account for people that do], it's an academic point, I guess.


message 25: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Terry wrote: "...If the author chooses to start at the end chronologically, by definition that's not a spoiler for me...."

LOL! Thanks for twisting my thinking around and making me look at it, Terry!


message 26: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Cat wrote: "I was frankly hesitant to enter into another journey through the horrors of WWII..."

Yes, somehow this one for me was more about how to go on living despite the horrors before, during, after than many tales that take us into the maelstrom. And not without strong overlays of avoidance (Etienne), sadness, fear, greed, and even horror. But everyday life, kept on living, despite... and with ramifications.


Maureen | 124 comments Lily wrote: "Cat wrote: "I was frankly hesitant to enter into another journey through the horrors of WWII..."

Yes, somehow this one for me was more about how to go on living despite the horrors before, during,..."


I have been reading the comments, and I like Lily's perspective; these characters do show us the various ways people go on living in spite of the horrors around them.

I also agree with Cat @26 that I hesitate at reading another WWII book In general, but I am glad I took the journey. I had a feeling from my pre-reading perusals that this piece would be different. I will forever be indebted to Doerr for adding Marie Laure, her father, and his model neighborhoods to my favorite characters and scenes in books. I have others from this book, but they stand out from the rest!


message 28: by Lacewing (last edited Dec 02, 2014 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lacewing I read Treblinka when I was much too young -- and sheltered, and American -- and inadequately inoculated by the too few fairy tales I was given as a child. (That's what I think fairy tales are really for, know what I mean?)

When I first read a kindle preview of this book, which featured a child-like re-telling of WW Two, I knew I needed to read this thing. Kudos and kudos again to Anthony Doerr for his ten-year effort on my behalf; I've taken it very personally.


message 30: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments A few links on AtLWCS:

Short accolade from Pat Conroy (See Five Minutes column):

http://www.islandpacket.com/2014/12/0...

This is an excellent article on AtLWCS and includes two interviews with Doerr. I am listening to the ~4 min one right now, and I highly recommend it. Haven't started the 18 min one yet -- need to come back to it later.

http://boisestatepublicradio.org/post...


message 31: by Lily (last edited Dec 06, 2014 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments "Marie-Laure is the blind daughter of a locksmith, but not just any locksmith - he is the principal locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. As the Nazis occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo, the home of her reclusive, eccentric uncle. To keep Nazis from confiscating it, they are smuggling out with them a rare and valuable jewel called The Sea of Flames. Or are they?" -- Allyson Pearl

http://www.everydayebook.com/2014/12/...

I think this line of Ms. Pearl's suggests as well as anything why I responded favorably to this novel:

"Life isn't always pretty or easy in Doerr's superb tale, but he never lets the reader forget the beauty of life, even when all appears bleak."


message 32: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments A post, not about AtLWCS, by Anthony Doerr:

http://www.themillions.com/2014/12/ye...

You can skip this one unless interested in a) his attitude towards working hard or b) his review of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.


message 33: by Lily (last edited Dec 06, 2014 02:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments I apologize if this one from the WSJ has been posted before. Also, it does include a statement that can definitely be considered a spoiler.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/1...

Two excerpts:

"How did you do your research? Did you visit Saint-Malo, where so much of the book is set?

"I went three times. I was trying to get the smell of the air right, what it looks like in April, the sound of gulls cracking open clams on roofs. You have to see that, to go with your notebook.

"How many liberties can an author of historical fiction take? Do people write in and complain if some of the settings or details have been changed for story purposes?

"People love to write in and tell you that. It’s welcome unless they are mean about it. I’ve already made 30 or 40 fixes. The book is now being translated in Denmark. I got an email the other day from the translator, questioning whether Niels Bohr ever worked in Germany as I described. I was wrong. I’m now trying to get that name trimmed out. I’ll be able to fix it for the hardcover if it goes back to press here again, and I can change it in the e-book. These things keep me up at night."

Byline: Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg


message 34: by Lily (last edited Dec 06, 2014 02:33PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Includes link to 30 minute interview with Doerr. May overlap with @33. Again, I apologize if any of this string of links posted tonight overlap with what others have already provided. I have not gone back and cross checked. Let me know and I can remove.

http://boisestatepublicradio.org/post...


message 35: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten  (kmcripn) The book is the subject of Diane Rehm's Reader Review today. It is on line right now on WAMU.org or you can stream it later today at: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/201...


Violet wells | 354 comments Thanks Kirsten. Bit nervous in case it gives away the plot as i'm about to read it.


Violet wells | 354 comments On about pg 200 of All the Light. I’m a sucker for beautiful writing and this is a very beautifully written novel. Doerr always has full imaginative command of his detail and is thus able to evoke it vividly and poignantly. It’s a visual delight I’m finding which is an especially brilliant achievement when you consider he’s writing about blindness. The sudden entering into the POV of new characters to crank up tension was a bit heavy handed – especially the suspicious perfidious neighbour. But on the whole I’m loving it. I like the short chapters and the flashing back and forwards in time. So far both have worked for me. I really like the theme of guardianship too, done especially well with Werner’s protective feelings towards Frederick, but shown as a constant facet of the novel’s every relationship.


message 38: by Lily (last edited Apr 06, 2015 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Violet wrote: "...I really like the theme of guardianship too, done especially well with Werner’s protective feelings towards Frederick, but shown as a constant facet of the novel’s every relationship...."

I had missed that, Violet! So obvious when you point it out. Even the questions of the guardianship of diamonds and orphanages and towns and countries.

To take the metaphor perhaps too far, the (misplaced) guardianship of intellectual prowess -- e.g., radio technology and its usages?


message 39: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2590 comments Mod
Does this theme extend to Hitler's final solution (i.e., an attempt at guardianship over a so-called race or culture however monstrous and twisted that may be)? Reworded, are the touching moments and examples of guardianship throughout the novel amplified by WWII as a backdrop. Mostly--not entirely--but mostly, the horror is kept in the background, especially in the earlier parts of the book so that the prose is like misty fairy tale hovering just over a nightmare.


message 40: by Lily (last edited Apr 07, 2015 03:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Marc wrote: "Does this theme extend to Hitler's final solution (i.e., an attempt at guardianship over a so-called race or culture however monstrous and twisted that may be)? Reworded, are the touching moments a..."

I must admit to playing where does the guardianship go astray -- the professor who takes Frederick into a life different than back into the mines, yet himself in some sense becomes the instrument of darkness, drawing Frederick into the morass. Do I make any convoluted sense? Do I hear you taking it yet another step, Marc? Are we really asking when or how does "good" turn evil?

I haven't gone and researched the background of Saint-Malo thoroughly, but one source suggested that the aggressive Allied attack was out of proportion to the number of Germans actually in the city -- poor intelligence??


message 41: by Lily (last edited Apr 07, 2015 04:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Lily wrote: " Are we really asking when or how does "good" turn evil?..."

Ostensibly, the father does not know whether his daughter has the "real" diamond. What does that mean in terms of his own "guardianship," of her, of her uncle, of himself, of the diamond itself?


message 42: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2590 comments Mod
I don't think this book really tackles when "good" becomes "evil" directly, but it certainly encompasses the moral question of blind obedience or acting as if one has no choice (possibly covered in the massive thread above or one of the others, but it's Frederick that describes living a life without choice, but Werner realizes Frederick is the only one of then that did make a moral choice). As a reader, did you ever feel that you condemned Werner for the work he did that helped the Germans? Personally, I didn't--perhaps a combination of his age and his fear (and that his actions are removed from the direct harm/death they inevitably caused for the most part).


message 43: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2590 comments Mod
Probably should move this on to the spoiler thread if we get into any more details!


Violet wells | 354 comments I'm writing my review today. I couldn't quite believe the bitchiness of the Guardian review! At the moment I'm trying to work out if Doerr somehow tricked me into loving this novel more than it deserved. Because i really did love it and yet I keep reading reviews saying it's great storytelling but not great literature (I've yet to come across a convincing argument to support this premise. One found fault with the novel because Doerr neglected to construct a convincing idea of nazism. Bizarre angle to take!


Violet wells | 354 comments The good/evil dynamic is very much part of the fable aspect of the novel - the lines are drawn very clearly and remain constant on the whole. The good characters are like ideals of goodness and the baddies are pantomime villains. I don't think Doerr was interested in investigating good and evil at all. The natural world pervades this novel like a kind of scripture. The goodies are aligned to the natural world; the baddies see it as little more than resources for furthering ambition. This being one of the many fairy tale motifs the novel dramatises. But essentially he creates a world pulsing with invisible transmitting circuitry - and I thought his two central characters were brilliantly conceived as vessels to dramatise the choreography of this theme.


Violet wells | 354 comments Also it reminded me of david Mitchell in its disregard for the perimeters between literary and commercial fiction. Doerr, like Mitchell, romps back and forth between the two camps with great poise and ease.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2306 comments Violet wrote: "The good/evil dynamic is very much part of the fable aspect of the novel - the lines are drawn very clearly and remain constant on the whole. The good characters are like ideals of goodness and the..."

I don't agree about the lines being "very clearly" drawn between good and evil. There are indeed one or two all evil characters and one or more who might be classified as all good, but most of the characters show to be combinations of both. This topic is discussed, I believe, in the threads devoted to characters.


message 48: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Violet wrote: "Also it reminded me of david Mitchell in its disregard for the perimeters between literary and commercial fiction. Doerr, like Mitchell, romps back and forth between the two camps with great poise ..."

Violet -- you seem to have a clear sense of what those boundaries ("perimeters" you call them) between literary and commercial fiction. For those of us that don't live in that discerning world that you apparently do, can you describe those a bit for us?

A friend recently said he was having difficulty selling his novel because it was both character oriented and plot oriented, while his agent was telling him that the former made his novel "literary" and the plot orientation made it "commercial." Is that what you mean about Doerr and Mitchell romping back and forth between the two camps with ease?


message 49: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Warning -- following may have spoilers. Posting long after the original discussion here of this book, I am struggling with where to put what comments.

I sort of viewed this novel as permeated with good and evil, with lots of overlapping boundaries, in situations, in institutions, and in individuals. As best as I can tell on limited research, the very setting carries that theme. It seems that the aggressive bombing of Saint-Malo may have been based on poor intelligence about the extent of Nazi infiltration there.

A large institution risked at least four lives to protect a piece of rock, albeit a rare and precious diamond, both historically and as a gem. An orphan, who lost at least one parent to the black death of the mines, is raised under terms of following in those footsteps or of serving a vile political system even as he earned the chance to pursue his heart's passion and his intellect's challenge. A seemingly benign professor recognized skill in a student. Even as he nourished those skills, was he mindful of the uses towards which he channeled them? Was he truly benign, or kind, or a tool or...?


Violet wells | 354 comments Good question, Lily, especially as what’s commercial is in constant evolution. Once upon a time, as you mention in your post, the distinction could be classified perhaps as plot-driven vs character-driven and compared to Hollywood films vs art house films. It was much easier to tell the two forms apart. Commercial was sacrificing artistry to plot, best personified by Dan Brown. I suppose one big change is the pushing back of the threshold of realistic credibility, playing with our ability to sustain disbelief, which has taken the form of introducing of different genres, especially fantasy, into otherwise classical storytelling techniques. The Thousand Autumns would be a good example. On the surface a rigorously executed work of historical fiction but incorporating a magical character. Doerr early on introduces the motif of the fairy story into All the Light and subtly elasticises our expectations of the credible. As a result we have less trouble accepting that two young German orphans can understand what is essentially the intellectual French they hear on the radio and this in turn prepares us for a succession of plot details that might be hard to swallow had not the narrative voice indicated its intention to be playful with genres.

On a technical note, I’d say the prime example in All the Light of sacrificing artistry to crank up plot tension is the head hopping. It’s generally considered bad form to head hop in novels, jump from one POV to another. Foerr, for example, suddenly takes us inside the head of a very minor character, the informer neighbour, to intensify the menace to Marie and her father. It would have been more subtle to feed that menace into descriptive detail without the necessity of creating a new POV. The same could be said of van Rompel. He’s not a character who will develop. He’s just the baddie. We don’t learn anything about him by going into his head, only about his intentions. It’s a device films and TV series employ – occasionally letting us into the secrets of the baddie so we feel more alarmed for the heroes and heroines. You wouldn’t catch literary heavyweights of the past sink to such cheap tricks. So, basically, I think your friend’s agent is ten years behind the times. Doerr, like Mitchell, has demonstrated that a plot-driven novel does not necessarily entail sacrificing character development and in fact some of the best modern novels do both admirably well.


« previous 1
back to top