Shortly after Marie-Laure turns six, she loses her sight, and her father helps her to navigate the city by building a miniature version of it, which she can explore through touch. However, threats of a second war soon approach, and Marie-Laure must leave her home town of Paris and move in with her Agoraphobic uncle. Meanwhile, a young German boy named Werner I recruited into a Hitler Youth school for his talent at fixing radios. As the war continues, Marie-Laure and Werner's lives will collide in unexpected ways.
This book was meant to be one of our book club reads in September, but as we were extremely busy, most of us never got round to it! However, as it has had a lot of hype, I decided I would read it anyway.
The book follows two separate story lines, which eventually interconnect with each other. Half of the book focuses on Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, who is forced to evacuate Paris during the World War II. The other half focuses on Werner, an orphan German boy who has a talent for fixing radios. Their journeys finally interconnect when Werner finds himself on Marie-Laure's street, where he is tracking radio signals from the enemy.
As someone who doesn't often read adult fiction, I was worried this book was going to be quite monotonous with lengthy chapters. At 530 pages, it is by no means a quick read. However, I was surprised that the chapters were so short, which I felt helped me get through the book a lot faster than I would have with long chapters. However, I did feel as if the plot progressed extremely slowly, and nothing much happened to keep my interest for a good portion of the book. Although I was disappointed that the story lacked action, the book is written beautifully, and the imagery is fantastic. It is clear from this book that Anthony Doerr is a brilliant writer, but unfortunately for me, the plot itself just wasn't interesting enough, and at times I found it difficult to get through this book. Although I almost marked this down as a DNF, I'm glad that I managed to see it out until the end, as the last quarter was by far my favourite.
I adored the characters in this book, especially Werner. I felt as if he went through fantastic character development. Werner was initially cowardly, as when his friend, Frederick, was being abused, he did nothing to stop it. However, he eventually risks everything to save the life of Marie-Laure, which was extremely kind and courageous. Although Frederick was only a minor character, he was my favourite, and I felt as if he was extremely important to Werner's character development. Frederick is extremely brave, and refuses to continue torturing a prisoner, despite knowing he will be severely punished. I adored Fredericks bravery, and how he never blamed Werner for not sticking up for him. He is pure of heart, and I loved how he showed his vulnerable side to Werner, such as his love for birds and the fact that his eyesight was not perfect, and needed glasses. I was heartbroken at what eventually happened to Frederick, and it perfectly showed the harsh reality of terrible things happening to the kindest and least selfish people.
Marie-Laure was an interesting character, and I loved that although she is blind, she is extremely independent and never feels sorry for herself, or seeks sympathy. I loved her strong relationship with her father, and how much they cared for each other. I also loved her relationship with her great uncle Etienne, a man who she has been told is crazy. Etienne was an interesting character, and I loved that although is is agoraphobic and hasn't left his house in years, he forces himself to go outside when he believes that Marie-Laure is in danger. It was nice to see such strong family bonds in a novel that is set during a war.
Throughout the majority of the novel, I was looking forward to Marie-Laure and Werner finally meeting each other. Their lives are connected to each other quite early on in the novel, when Werner and his sister come across a French educational radio broadcast of Marie-Laure's grandfather aimed at children their age. However when they did finally meet, it was extremely short lived and felt unsatisfactory. I did love that it fit in with the theme of nothing being fair in times of war, but at the same time, I wish there had been a little more interaction between the two.
The subplot involving the Sea of Flames diamond was an interesting one, and I honestly had no idea where it was going! It initially felt a little trivial, and an excuse to create some drama in Marie-Laure's storyline. Although the diamond was the catalyst for a number of outcomes, the one that stood out to me involved Werner. It is stated early on in the novel that the diamond is practically priceless, and only the strongest would be able to resist the temptation to take it. The fact that Werner retrieved the model house, but left the diamond behind really showed how far he had come as a character, as he went from not helping his friend to avoid being punished himself, to saving the life of a French girl he had only just met, and resisting taking the diamond.
Although this is not a book I would normally choose to read, I do like to occasionally break out of my comfort zone, and I'm glad that I did that with this book. If you decide to read it, my advice would be not to rush through it, as I did find it quite mentally draining, and it is definitely not a happy book. I thought the ending was quite bittersweet, and I felt as if going forward in time to see what the characters lives were like after the war was a good way to end it. If you enjoy war stories and beautifully written prose, then I recommend this book!