Monday, 21 December 2015

Review of "All the Light we Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

People always seem to remember where they were when they found out an important event had happened: were you on the toilet when you found out about the birth of a royal Prince? Or at a fancy dinner when 9/11 happened? I'll always remember what I was reading when this year's terror attacks on Paris occurred: this book. As Paris was reeling from the aftermath of a bombing in 2015, I was reading about the terror of Parisians during World War Two, when the threat of a German bombing could very much become a reality. It was then that I realised how terribly little we've learnt in the last 70 years. Violence answers nothing and we often fail to think of the extent of the terror it induces, which is why I think it is so important that Doerr's female protagonist is blind. Anyone would be absolutely terrified if their world was under threat from war, and I mean this in the strongest sense of the word, but just imagine the dear you would be ensconced in if your world was being attacked and you were clueless to the visible effects of it.  

Marie Laure is a young girl when her eyesight deteriorates to the extent that she becomes entirely blind. Determined to allow his daughter to have some independence and quality of life,  her papa creates an accurate wooden model of the part of Paris they live in for her that they study together so that she can begin to navigate the streets. He is the keyholder and locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, a place which is rumoured to hold a cursed diamond, one so unique that few have set eyes on it. When Paris begins to come under threat during the war, Papa realises that it is no longer safe for him and Marie Laure to remain there, and they must flee. But the curator of the museum has realised this too, and sends out three replicas of the priceless diamond, as well as a real one with his most trusted employees. No man knows whether he has the real one, but if he has, trouble may befall him ....

Meanwhile in Germany, orphaned Werner is beginning to see the effects of the changing times. A boy with a keen interest in mechanics, he becomes a whizz with radios, only to have the number of broadcasts available seriously lessened due to censorship. When his sister Jutta starts listening to prohibited frequencies he smashes the radio he created for them, causing an unshakeable rift in their sibling bond. Soon Werner's skill means he must go away to a school for gifted boys, but when he gets there he realises it perhaps is not so much of a godsend as he originally thought. Boys are pitted against one another, and to be the weakest one could mean death. Werner must balance his time between learning greater mechanical skill for radio repair and trying to survive the brutal physical challenges he is faced with. But what is the point of these tests? is it something a whole lot more sinister than he'd ever hoped?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review of "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler

Even the very title of this novel screams that it is quintessentially American. Set deep in the heart of the country, the key protagonist Abby is a mother first, a wife second, and a money maker last. This book is almost what I would call a reverse bildungsroman (if such a thing exists): we start off with a retired Abby who still struggles to understand her problem child Denny, and then we move back to how she met her husband Red, and even further back in time to how his parents met. Eventually the reader learns that out of happiness, happiness does not always emerge, and out of unhappiness it is possible to find joy. 

Denny has always been a problem child, yet in spite of that. or perhaps because of it, he's always been Abby's favourite. But what happens when a problem child grows up and becomes a problem adult? Does it get any easier for a mother? And what about the rest of her children? Abby is mother to Jeannie, Amanda, Denny and Stem, as well as grandmother to numerous children, and loves being the centre of their little community, as well as the fact that they all live nearby. 

Unfortunately, Abby is starting to age, and as the family gather closer together, we find otu everyone's real intentions with being part of the family, and their true colours are displayed. But when we delve deeper into Abby's memory we learn that perhaps even seemingly the closest of families can be worlds apart.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x