Just when you thought you couldn’t possibly read another book about the devastation of World War II, along comes this award-winning novel. All The Light We Cannot See truly deserves its status as the winner of both the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Australian International Book Award - not to mention its 82-week stint in the New York Times Bestseller list. Whichever way you judge a book, this one ticks all the boxes: it has an original and intriguing plot; the writing is beautiful and well structured; and the characters are strong, sincere and truly loveable.
The story follows the lives of two resilient and resourceful young people, growing up in Europe during the grim years of WWII: Marie-Laure, a motherless French girl, blind since she was six; and Werner, an intelligent, sensitive German boy, orphaned and living in a mining town. In time, the brilliant Werner is recruited by Hitler’s Youth to attend a brutal military academy, due to his exceptional engineering skills. As the war progresses, his superior skills are increasingly in demand to seek out illegal use of radio transmitters.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Marie-Laure’s loving, protective father is the master of locks at the Museum of Natural History. To assist Marie-Laure, he handcrafts a miniature model of the streets of Paris, so that his beloved daughter can memorise the layout of the city by touch. In time, her father becomes aware of a priceless blue diamond named the Sea of Flames. In fact, it's so immeasurably valuable that three imitations have been made, in order to baffle would-be thieves.
When the Nazis invade Paris, the Museum entrusts Marie-Laure’s father with one of the diamonds for safekeeping: he doesn't know whether it's the genuine article, or one of the replicas. The Sea of Flames is cursed – whoever possesses the diamond will be spared, but those close to them will perish. To escape the Nazis, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris, heading to the historic walled village of Saint-Malo. Here, they live with an elderly, reclusive great-uncle, Etienne, and his loyal housekeeper, Madame Manec. And so from that point onwards, Marie-Laure's story becomes as much a war-time tale of heartbreak and survival, as a gripping account of protecting the reported jewel at all costs. And it is here, in Saint-Malo, that the worlds of Werner and Marie-Laure collide.
Although they're from opposing sides of the conflict, the reader develops a strong connection with both characters – I found myself equally captivated by the stories of both Marie-Laure and Werner. Through the author's vivid descriptions, the reader has a very real sense of what it is like to be a blind child - it's almost as though the author helps to heighten our senses of touch and sound, so we can truly relate.
There is so much to love about this book, but above all, it's the beautiful relationships, strengthened and tested during the trying years of war. I also really loved the fact that the ending was unpredictable, and kept you engrossed right until the very last page. There was nothing 'typical' about this novel. It's definitely one to add to your list.
BOOK DISCUSSION VENUE:
PM24’S famous rotisserie-chicken is back. Philippe Mouchel is waving his French magic once again, this time in his new venture ‘Philippe’ in George Parade, off Collins Street. I'm curious to see if Philippe will bring the midas touch to a space that has had many different restaurant identities: Momo, Fifteen, The Kitchen Cat and more recently Brooks, have all had a crack at this space. The decor has been freshened up and is a little brighter, but ultimately it's not the fit out that is the draw card - it’s the food. Chef Philippe Mouchel trained with the great Paul Bocuse, the only chef in France to have been awarded three Michelin stars for more than 40 consecutive years. Philippe offers the French classics with a modern touch, using first class seasonal produce. Dishes from the current menu include: Pate en croutie served with house pickles and cornichons; Beef tartare, “borsch pot-au-feu” and horseradish cream (classic French dish presented 2 ways, traditional and modern); and Rockling, with soupe de poisson, celery & seafood risotto, and sauce rouille. There are three different steak options, all simply cooked with fresh garnishes rather than heavy sauces. And then, of course, there's the rotisserie chicken. If you're after a more efficient, casual experience, then sit at the Zinc Bar and order from the bar menu. Or, another option is to sit along the open kitchen, where you'll enjoy the sounds of the French banter. The wine list is affordable and easy to navigate. Put simply, this is a polished dining experience with elegant food that honours its French roots. It’s quite a grown-up atmosphere and the clientele reflected this - I immediately thought that it would be perfect to celebrate mum’s birthday. I also have a feeling that Philippe will be a popular choice for a lunch or dinner on a company expense account. A private dining room is also available.