Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great-uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
What a confusing book, flipping backward and forward between time periods and not being what I was expecting at all from the synopsis; and it’s not as if the Author gradually leads the reader into all this mayhem, he throws them right into it from the very first chapter. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not against the multiple thread novel, as I have reviewed other Authors that use this tactic, and use it well; it was just not the case in the book and, in my opinion did nothing to improve or help the novel in any way.
The book has two main protagonists from different sides of the conflict that book is set partly in, World War II. I’m not sure if it was me, or I am losing my touch but I really found nothing that make me connect to either of these characters; I didn’t like them at all. In fact the only emotion I had for them was pity that they had been placed in a novel such as this. Yes, it was sad that the female main lead was blind, but did we have to be reminded of it every few pages; and given the amount of miles her fingers walked they must have been nothing but nubs by the end of the book. As to the male lead, given he was an orphan he lacked the zeal and love for the Nazi party that many orphans felt, as they found a ‘family’ at last that needed them.
Thinking that this was a historical novel was the reason I picked it up in the first place, so imagine my surprise when it seemed to turn on its heels and become a fantasy mystery; very strange. In my mind it would have been better if the object of the mystery had been connected with Nazi thefts during the war, rather than some magical and mysterious properties it was supposed to possess. This added to the tediousness I was beginning to feel over the flipping between eras, and just added to my lack of overall enjoyment of this book.
The saving grace for this novel and the reason for the two thumbs rating was the prose. With an elegant pen the descriptions of objects, places, sensations encountered by the senses was just beautiful; it brought to the front of the reader’s mind how much we take for granted the sense of touch and smell and results in making them experience the mundane on different level in their own lives.
I’m sure there are some readers out there who will totally disagree with my review, but that is the nature of the world and both sides of a coin have to be seen to get a well-rounded picture. If you enjoy fantasy, mystery and WWII historical fiction all in one book, this may be a good read for you. If you like to keep your genres separate unless they are skilfully blended together, I would give this a miss. I doubt I will be reading anything else by this Author.