There are ways to start a novel and ways to start a novel…
And thus begins one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Marie-Laure is the blind daughter of the widowed locksmith of the Paris Museum of Natural History at the outbreak of war. Werner and his sister live in an orphanage in a (no pun intended) dirt poor coal-mining town in Germany. This is the story of how their two extraordinary paths eventually intertwine many years later in the French coastal fortress town of Saint-Malo and the story of every other citizen of Europe engulfed in a crushing catastrophe beyond their control.
I’m not going to tell you any more, Read the bloody thing. It’s intricate and detailed like the town models that Marie-Laure’s father creates for her to get to learn her surroundings, full of extraordinary sweeps of language (there are many single lines that deserve to be mounted and framed!) and a story of compassion, love, family and how telling you the stories of individuals on both sides of a conflict is far more illuminating than any broad history ever can be. All of World War II is here.
After she’d finished it and before she put it at the top of my “to be read” pile, my wife said she thought it may have “ruined other books” for her. I honestly found myself rationing the last few chapters as I didn’t want the story to finish.
If anything beats it to this year’s International Dublin Literary Award I’ll be surprised.