Between The Lines Book Club: Blindness in All the Light We Cannot See

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club, which meets in this space every Friday and will be meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library on June 25, 2016 at 10:30AM. This month’s book is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

One of the main characters in All the Light is a blind girl named Marie. Marie is fiercely protected by every other major character with the exception of the arch-villain of the story. Her father bathes her and dresses her and helps her put on her shoes well into her teens. Marie usually seems much younger than her actual age – at the start of the book she is six, but although later she is a teenager seems more like a girl between the ages of ten and twelve. She is presented as without flaws, other than a kind of passivity. However, she does show resourcefulness and increasing independence.

Most reviewers have praised the book, but some have pointed out that Marie represents an unrealistic version of life as a blind people. Blind people learn to navigate without ropes and model houses, and they can most certainly dress themselves. In this passionate essay by Sheri Wells-Jensen, Wells-Jensen (who is blind) analyzes the portrayal of Marie as a character “without agency”.

Not everyone agrees – here’s a dissenting essay by blind author Beth Finke. She felt that Marie was a well-rounded character, and she especially admires the way the writing stays within Marie’s point of view, so we don’t see anything she doesn’t see.

What do you think? Is Marie realistically written? Is she more, less, or equally passive than Werner, who drifts along with the army and makes very few choices on his own behalf?

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Between the Lines Book Club: All The Light We Cannot See

between the lines book club logoArden Dimick Library is open again and it is BEAUTIFUL. If you don’t have a copy of All The Light We Cannot See, our book club selection for June, just request one at the circulation desk.We will be meeting on June 25, 2016 at 10:30AM!

All The Light We Cannot See tells two stories (set in WWII) that seem inextricably connected even though the characters only meet briefly. Marie is a blind French girl who lives in Paris and, later, in the besieged town of St. Malo. Werner is a young German soldier who specializes in radio equipment and in locating radio signals. The novel is notable less for it’s plot and more for its use of lovely language to describe difficult times and the characters’ internal states:

What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father recreated in his models… None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes.

The book was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. One of the things I noticed, though, is that every review has a different, “The book was great but…” Did you like the book? Did you have a “The book was great, but…” reaction?

Review Links:

The Guardian

NPR

New York Times

Washington Post