In the 5 year history of the Pocket Book Club, I only remember two books that have been unanimously loved. Not just, we all like it, it was good, but we all love it.
We spent a lot of time talking about the multi-layered characters. Some of Doerr’s characters do dreadful things – Volkheimer who could have been a giant cold-hearted killer but instead, he is an enigma, a lover of music, loyal to the protagonist Werner.
Then there is the beautiful writing, this randomly from one of the first pages the book opens on:
To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the streets and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away.She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars, crows hopping from pile to pile, flies landing on corpses in ditches; she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune grass burn; she feels the great granite fist, sunk deep into the earth’s crust, on which Saint-Malo sits, and the ocean teething at it from all sides, the outer islands holding steady against the swirling tides; she hears cows drink from stone troughs and dolphins rise through the green water of the Channel; she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks. (p.391)
Seriously, the tamarinds shiver and the ocean teething – that is how to use verbs. And of course, we love Marie-Laure blind, alone and trapped in an attic with a radio transmitter. Around her the bombed city burns. German boy soldier Werner is not far away trapped in a cellar of a collapsed building with a broken radio and the giant Volkheimer
Doerr drops us in the climax of the bombed Saint-Malo in 1944 and within a few pages takes us back to 1934. We travel back and forth, learning who the characters are and how they came to be in Saint-Malo in 1944. Periodically we return to 1944 and the climax of the story advances almost minute by minute throughout the book. The structure is effective and enticing.
This book has a strong moral heart. It has a big heart. It is practically perfect.
Thank you to Karen for choosing this book, but also Kath for telling her about it and to Chris who introduced it to Kath. This is how people come to good books. Recommendations from people who know us and what we like. Don’t you agree?
What we ate: If you put Camembert cheese, blueberries and quince paste on a cracker it tastes a bit like cheesecake.
Next month – Ruth Park’s Harp in the South. This book was published in 1948 and according to Wikipedia has never been out of print.