1. Good as historical fiction. Excellent particularly because we get POV characters on both sides of the conflict.
2. Good as literary fiction (at least, according to my standards). I prefer my lit-fic to be on the accessible side, and not to focus exclusively on middle-aged white man problems. But it’s also got extra levels if you want to go digging.
3. Good as writing, in the sense that the sentences strung one after another make sense and their stylistic construction adds to the story.
4. Good as character fiction. Marie-Laure (sixteen year old blind French girl living in German-occupied France) and Werner (nineteen year old electrical prodigy snapped up by the NAZIs) are very compelling characters.
5. Good as a piece of art, painting us a picture of a specific time and place and people who don’t exist anymore (or never existed) in order to evoke feelings in us as the consumer of said art. For me, it worked best not as a meditation on war or disability or friendship, but as a meditation on the fragility and ephemerality of life on this planet.
6. Good as advertising for visiting Saint-Malo in France (WANT TO GO PLEASE THANK YOU).
So even though it does all of those things listed above very, very well, it didn’t do any of them well enough for me to come away from the book thinking anything more than, “Well, that was pretty good.” And then I returned it to the library.
This wouldn’t be an issue at all, except obviously enough people thought it RULED THE SHIT at doing all those things to give it the Pulitzer. And also, most of my friends who have read have LOST THEIR DAMN MINDS over it. I’m not seeing what exactly about it provokes that kind of response. Maybe I’ve just read too much WWII literature, or maybe the stuff this book is really about is stuff that just doesn’t resonate with me personally.
Whatever the answer to that unanswerable question, this was a good book and definitely worth reading, even if you don’t think it Pulitzer worthy/life-changing/HOLY GOD IN A VOLCANO THAT WAS AMAZING, or whatever.
(Also, the rest of this will be SPOILERS: I didn’t like the way that Werner’s story ended. I found it extremely anti-climactic and unsatisfying, and also it didn’t make sense to me on a plot level. Why did he walk into that minefield? Was he suicidal? Why did we see no evidence of it before, if so? What the fuck? And even before that, I thought the meeting between Marie-Laure and Werner should have been a bigger deal. It wasn’t satisfying for me as is. There should have been more of an interaction between them. We’d been waiting the whole book!)