I like reading because it transports me away from reality into a fantasy world. That doesn’t mean I only read books in the fantasy genre, but it does mean that I like stories that are distinctly fictitious. I prefer to read a yarn that could be real, but isn’t. Stories that are rooted in reality, whether they’re just based on real life events or strictly non-fiction, really aren’t for me.
That’s why when I received All the Light We Cannot See for Christmas last year from a friend, I politely thanked her for the thoughtful gift but I honestly wasn’t scheduling a sit down with the book any time soon. You see, this book is set in France in the era of World War II which is just a little too real for me. I a similar affliction when it comes to movies. I’d rather not be horrified with history when I could be entertained with fiction.
That’s not to say that I’ve never read books like this before; my mom convinced me to read Sarah’s Key last year and I have to say I really enjoyed that book. But I also cried a few times, and serious topics like that have a tendency to stick with me and bother me at random times; the slaughter of thousands of Frenchmen during WWII is not something I like to be randomly reminded of. Knowing my previous experience, and seeing that All the Light is also set in France during the WWII German occupation, I wasn’t eager to dive in.
But I decided to pick this book for book club because they haven’t seemed to enjoy my previous picks and they all seem to like these kind of novels. That led me to read and unexpectedly like this gem of a book! It’s great for a variety of reasons:
- The point of view constantly switches between the two main characters, various secondary characters, and between timelines, all of which makes for a very compelling read.
- The story wasn’t just about war and death and icky stuff like that. Don’t get me wrong, the backdrop figures prominently, but the author does a great job of making it about these individual lives rather than letting the story get too big and overwhelming.
- The unique main characters, a blind girl and an idealistic German boy, led to fascinating scenarios and at times made the story quite thought-provoking.
- The chapters are short but written so well that I was kept interested and entertained and I didn’t get bored. And I could read in short intervals when I wanted.
- There’s a little bit of a mystery involved, which is definitely right up my alley, and helped keep me curious until the very end.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the ending, which went on for way too long in my opinion. It even jumped ahead into the future to show us more, whereas I think the story would have been better served ending without this extra glimpse. Also by the end I was almost expecting a happy ending because of how the story was playing out, and I was abruptly faced with the reality that this is loosely based on history and that happy endings just don’t happen in real life. Boo.
What a surprise to really enjoy a book based in reality! This is awfully confusing for me, and I’m not quite sure yet whether my friend did me a favour or a disservice in buying me this book! On the one hand I feel like the whole non-fiction genre has opened its arms to me, and on the other that feeling is extremely overwhelming! There are enough books to choose from in the fiction sections, for goodness sakes.