Bingo Square: Award Winner
In August of 1944, Saint-Malo in France is under siege. 16 year old Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, is trying to survive the bombing and hide from someone who is searching for her. 18 year old Werner, a German solider, is trapped in the rubble of a hotel. From this starting point we go back several years, to Marie-Laure first losing her sight, and Werner’s childhood in an orphanage with his younger sister. Marie-Laure lives with her father, a locksmith at a museum, and he creates for her a model of their neighbourhood, so she can memorise it and find her way around alone. When Germany invades France they go to stay in Saint-Malo with her great uncle Etienne, who suffers from shell shock from WW1. He has a hidden radio transmitter which becomes important to the resistance.
Werner is incredibly bright, teaching himself to fix radios, and his intellect does not go unnoticed. He goes away to a training school before being forced into the army underage, his sharp brain being used to find those illegally broadcasting via radio. He has always done what he was told, but his actions have started to take a toll. Their two stories converge during the 1944 attack on Saint-Malo, each having a profound effect on the other.
This is a tough one to review. It is a very worthy book, it is highly readable, the characters are enjoyable and it is obviously thoroughly researched, but it never truly grabbed me and sucked me in. For whatever reason I felt like I was being held at arm’s length the entire time I was reading, unable to be totally moved by what was happening. And I don’t know why that is. You’ve got war, Nazis, resistance, a young blind girl who loves literature and her family, two people who, even for a short time, influence each other’s lives…all the pieces are there, I should have been sobbing throughout, and yet it hasn’t left a mark.
I think the relationships are the strongest part of the book – Marie-Laure with her father especially, and later her uncle, and there’s a subplot/parallel plot about a diamond and a person searching for it that felt like one thing too many, like it wanted to add depth to a story that already had that. It doesn’t need a fairy tale about a diamond and a caricature of a Nazi villain searching for eternal life to add any more weight. I think it takes away from it actually. It’s probably longer than it needs to be because of this, and that affected my enjoyment.