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Andrew D Wright "Andrew W." (UK)
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The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts
by M. R. Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3.0 out of 5 stars much lorded and much splattered with impressive quotes from outlets like the Guardian and Vogue this caught my eye through ..., 30 Jan. 2016
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Ummm, much lorded and much splattered with impressive quotes from outlets like the Guardian and Vogue this caught my eye through recommendation and the harsh divisions it seemed to create in its readers. A marmite book, people loved or hated it. So what did I think? (Warning, whilst there aren't exactly spoilers here, it's impossible to give my view without revealing the basic themes of this story as they're the source of that passionate reader reaction.)

So, deep breath, this is a book about zombies! What! You'd never get that from the cover. Well, honestly, it is and I have an inner eight year old and he totally loves zombies (woop, woop!) It's a sophisticated and clever take on the zombie-trope, fungal zombies, human civilisation sliding into that all too familiar dystopian rust-fest that happens in so many books nowadays - like dystopian is a virus infecting the collective creative mind (it's all getting a little dull and repetitive don't you think?) Anyway, the fungal infection is like the one you see on the wildlife documentaries, those spores that drive ants totally bonkers, the hyphae exuding faux-neurotransmitters that take over the host and make them little more than robot mushrooms. Mushrooms that bite!

So, you get the backdrop, civilisation melted to jiggering, jerking mould that runs and bites. Hungries! (Yes, a zombie book that doesn't actually use the word once.) These zombies do everything that proper zombies do, they run and swarm and bite and are relentless and dumb and gloopily disgusting. So, check, inner eight year satisfied - yum, yum!

But then, weird, so weird, MR Carey (pseudonym for some seriously good writer of Marvel and screenplays and graphic novels) does something either amazingly clever or daft. I suppose he skates the edge of genius, as that's where we're led to believe is where genius happens, in the zone between what should be done and what shouldn't. The Girl With All the Gifts tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the inside out, it makes us like the hungries - well at least feel sorry for them - and them positively root for one of them. Our heroine, Melanie, is a new type of hungry, a sentient one, the child of an infected human with fungus running deeply through her like Blackpool through pink, sweet rock. She can stop her hungry urges, reads ancient Greek and has a crush on her teacher and is self-aware. So this is an existential zombie-book, a self-reflective zombie book and add to that that Melanie is a child our emotional buttons are being pressed and prodded in all sorts of strange places.

So, what DID I think? The inner eight year loved the fast-paced screenplayesque zombie scenes, the running, jumping, shooting and splatting. The chin-clenching intellectual in me, pompous and sniffily watching the reactions of that inner eight year old wasn't convinced. Zombies and existentialist angst, interesting idea. What a great pitch! MR Carey is an undoubtably very accomplished writer with a great turn of phrase and his prose skittered somewhere between the easy-to-digest addictiveness of Pringles and the seriously-you're-having-a-laugh-with-us suspension of disbelief cutting ridiculousness of two tropes melded and mutated in a weirdly fascinating way.

And that's my verdict, a weirdly fascinating book, like a hippo in a hat, walking with a cane or a flower growing a mouth and asking for marmite on toast - you'd stop to watch, but you'd not perhaps end up any the wiser and most likely simply spend the rest of the day freaked.

So should you read the Girl With The Gifts? Yes, it's like watching a film it's so smoothly written but I'm not sure it actually achieves a great deal more than the running and jumping and splatting of the zombie-trope even though it is clearly reaching much, much higher. It's deepest question seems to be can horrific, merciless, vicious zombies be redeemable? A question that flips actually, in the way any experience of humanity for more than five minutes generates; are humans redeemable? Would sentient, flesh-eating zombies be more civilised than earth-destroying, human rights crushing, murderous bipedal apes that think they're something special? Quick answer; no. Zombie civilisation is most certainly a fiction, but if you listen to the World Service long enough or drink deeply from the well of history you'd be left thinking the same about human civilisation too.

But genius, clever creativity and rightly lorded for that. Well done and I did eat it quickly, actually, hungrily - raaaah!

But only Three Stars (***) and a facial expression like this.


Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success
Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success
by Matthew Syed
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars but lead to literally terrible events happening, 9 Jan. 2016
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If you lead organisations that do important work - schools, hospitals, public services of any type or companies - you need to read this book. If you're interested in the human condition and nuanced notions of why things go wrong, read this book.

Written in the style of a page-turner with some superbly told narrative examples, Matthew Syed explores the psychological dimensions of our approach to making mistakes. He explains how our biology and psychology, egos and our capacity for cognitive dissonance (refusing to accept our opinion is wrong and needs updating as a result of experience) can cause us not only to make enormous arses of ourselves, but lead to literally terrible events happening.

Matthew uses examples from the airline industry, whose safety record has improved and improved as a result of diligently learning every lesson from every mistake, to explore what he calls Black Box thinking (after the black box all planes carry to record both voice and cockpit experiences as well as technical and engineering information). He argues convincingly that a similar approach to mistakes in medicine would lead to a huge reduction in dangerous and sometimes fatal medical errors and, in some enlightened hospitals around the world, has done just that.

A superbly written, compellingly constructed, absolutely fascinating read. Public servants, teachers, doctors and please, please, please politicians - READ THIS BOOK, learn from it and then worm its lessons into practice.

***** Five Stars


Time and Time Again
Time and Time Again
by Ben Elton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars ... - Ben Elton (Transworld) I bought this because I loved the premise, 4 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Time and Time Again (Paperback)
Time And Time Again - Ben Elton (Transworld)

I bought this because I loved the premise, I mean we all love a good time travel story right? Elton is clever and funny and clearly as intellectually fascinated by history as his various versions of Blackadder would suggest. The premise for this little time travel escapade starts with Isaac Newton and the fact of his mental break-down in the years after publishing his great works on gravity and forces. Elton asks us to imagine that Newton's mental collapse was because he discovered something else in those nature-nailing equations, something about time and gravity too. Anyway, spool forward to 2023 where the book opens and an ex-SAS soldier is recruited to travel back in time using Newton's mathematics to just before the beginning of the First World War. The journey will be a one way trip and his mission is to stop the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand and then travel on to Germany to kill the war-mongering Kaiser. History professors at Cambridge have divined that it's these two changes in the flow of events that will turn the river of time into a less murderous version of the 20th century, avoiding both first and second world wars.

Suffice it to say history was never that simple and the interweaving time-lines don't behave themselves and Stanton, our hero, ends up in a right royal mess. The writing here is very commercial, I know duh Andrew that's why it sells, but I found the repetition of key plot points a little insulting (are readers of commercial fiction stupid!) and at times, actually most of the time, the characters were less characters, more plot devices (you could see their narrative clockwork as it were). Elton, as I say is clever, so he knows exactly what he is doing for the market but I sense he is actually a much better write than this commercial of his prose would suggest. However these are pseudo-intellectual gripes that do me little justice, the premise was what attracted me and it was very well done, the ending particularly strong with a couple of big surprises I didn't see coming.

**** Four stars


The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work
The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work
by Shawn Achor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the psychological effort of humanity was focused Eeyore like on the negative side of our mental lives, 2 Jan. 2016
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How many times have you read this; This book will change your life.

Ahem, well, actually this book will change your life if you let it. Building on the work of Martin Seligman at Penn State University, Shawn Achor is one of the new young turks in psychology taking the findings of positive psychology and applying them to business and everyday life. These ideas are quite revolutionary, as is the whole of positive psychology predicated as it is on using what we know about our brains to enable us to use them more effectively. Before positive psychology came along, the psychological effort of humanity was focused Eeyore like on the negative side of our mental lives, exploring all of the things that could go wrong with the complex human mind. Mental illness and psychology were basically synonyms, with the medical disciplines fetishising when brains go wrong over applying its understandings in a more balanced, life-affirming way. Positive psychology restores that balance, acknowledging that there's a lot we can do in weeding our own mental garden in a manner that means we live as happy a life as possible. In fact, the premise of Shawn's wonderful book is that - happiness doesn't follow success, it is the other way round. We are, Achor says (and he backs his assertions up with buckets of evidence and examples) more likely to be successful when we are positive and happy - up to 30% more successful - because brains in a positive state are more imaginative, responsive and flexible.

The book contains 7 basic principles which Achor calls the Happiness Advantage. He is a persuasive and entertaining writer and public speaker, his TED talk is here and as you can see his work is gaining a lot of attention (12 million hits and counting). The principles range from considering our everyday interactions with people through to re-setting our negative defaults to sift the environment for positive things that if our moods instead of simply worrying about what might or mightn't happen in the future. I have a copy of this book and also an audio-copy which I use in work and with some of the people I support.

The book is replete with fantastic insights and ideas. The 7 principles being;

1. The Happiness Advantage - Being happy gives you an edge or an advantage in terms of achieving success so happiness should be our focus, not success. Achor calls this the Copernican revolution in psychology, happiness leading to success instead of the mistaken beliefs we have about success making us happy.

2. The Fulcrum and the Lever - Re-calibrating our mental responses toward the positive will move our internal psychological fulcrum giving us much greater leverage with a brain singing with positive neurotransmitters rather than one paralysed by negativity, doubt and worry.

3. The Tetris Effect - Basically, this is neuroplasticity (the tendency of the human brain to change and adapt neural networks dependent on what we are doing) in action, we are what we repeatedly do. If we play Tetris for long enough everything block-like in the real-world can appeal to our Tetris habituated brain as a shape within the remit of the game and we can find ourselves trying to fit blocks together out in the real-world, blocks made of fences, walls, buildings or bricks just we happen to be passing. If we tip of brains response towards the positive we will see opportunity and creativity where before we might have seen challenge and stress. (On this point Kelly McGonigal in her wonderful TED talk makes a similar point.)

4. Falling Up - This is a fascinating chapter all about how we can reset our daily to defaults to maximise our happiness experiences, such pearls of wisdom here. Quick happiness wins we can all build into our daily experience to lift our subjective experience toward the positive.

5. The Zorro Circle - This is about being very clear and focused about what you want to achieve everyday and ensuring you do your very best by building the skills which enable you to achieve those daily goals.

6. The 20 Second Rule - This takes forward the examples from Principle 4 and gives many examples of how we can prime our default responses to ensure we overcome any inertia around changing bad habits, for example, if we want to jog first thing in the morning, go to bed wearing Gym clothes.

7 - Social Investment - As social animals this principle acknowledges the importance of making strong, supportive connections with others (colleagues and friends) in ensuring we maximise our happiness.

All in all one of the best development, self-help books I've read in a while. Heartily recommended and I will be spending several years implementing its suggestions in terms of leading and managing successful teams at my work-place and convincing colleagues to do the same.

***** (Five Stars)


Slade House
Slade House
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darker than a sack full of night-time., 22 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Slade House (Hardcover)
Slade House - David Mitchell (published by Sceptre)

David Mitchell's latest is more novella than the soaring door-stop thick imagination-fest we've come to expect from the author of Bone Clocks and Ghostwritten but it's jammed pack with the same delicious themes and scintillating writing. What sets Mitchell's work apart from so much else is the sheer verisimilitude of his characters, real, living people walking on the page. And the quality of the prose, it never strikes a naff or off-key note. His characters inner lives are so vibrant, so conflicted, so real.

Here, Mitchell re-visits the Shaded Way psycho-demon stuff so brilliantly explored in Bone Clocks. Mitchell's writing at it's best is like an Ian McEwan and Stephen King mash up,horror dressed in such precise prose. He picks his words like a surgeon operating, deftly and with a sharpness that cuts. Published for Halloween this is a ghost and horror story with Lovecraftian over-tones without the clunky, god-awful grandiose prose. I loved this, wallowed in its structures and sheer creativity, a story with a resonant fable-like quality, feeling old as time and yet fresh and new. Mitchell is an living embodiment of the adage, in order to break the rules of art, you need to thoroughly understand them. He does narrative, character and structure brilliantly, enabling him to reach the giddy heights of disbelief suspension in his readers that is exhilarating to experience.

In some respects he is playing with us here, some of the concepts are silly, even hackneyed, but rendered fresh and new and shiny by the excellence of his writing. This is laugh out loud funny in places, gripping and satisfyingly resolved. As Stephen King once described short fiction, a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger and Slade House is that. A kiss you'll totally enjoy.

A fantastical tale of horror and evil without a word out of place. Beautiful, compelling, confident writing that deepens our credulity of a concept wackier than a winner of the Turner Prize. We believe the supernatural stuff because it is so beautifully rooted in character. And we want the soul-sucking vampires to get their comeuppance and boy, they do! Superb. Read it, it's the holidays, you'll not be able to put it down.

***** Five Stars


Ghostwritten
Ghostwritten
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars we either love or hate them, 29 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
Ghostwritten - David Mitchell (Sceptre) 1999

This is David Mitchell's first novel and it's the first time we experience his now trademark braided narrative, six inter-linked stories across time, space and geography. Here we're wormed from the madness of a cult avenger trying to poison travellers on the Japanese underground to the cybernetically enhanced end of the world in the not too distant future. On the way we visit Maoist China, corrupt financiers and a down-at-heel ghost-writer in a fashionable slice of London.

At the heart of David Mitchell's first novel is the ambition and thrumming narrative engine we've come to expect from everything he writes. His books are literary Marmite, we either love or hate them, and this one for me is the beginning of a love affair with his very clever stories. The confusing mash-up of Number9Dream is yet to come, as is the self-indulgence of the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (never did get into that one). But in his six novels to date, three are astounding (Bone Clocks, Ghost Written and Cloud Atlas), one good, two (those aforementioned) so far out my willing suspension of my disbelief snapped. Mr Mitchell is ever ambitious and demanding as a novelist, his prose style by turns ambitious and pretentious. He brings us another's reality like they're real people and we're channelling their experience instead of simply reading about it.

For long parts of Ghostwritten we've not got a clue what's going on and this is totally and completely fine. The reality of Mitchell's character's inner lives is so strong we're simply dragged along in the flow of their thinking, each vignette has its own narrative which quickly becomes all-consuming. Ghostwritten offers us a slatted glance at life experience, through various camera angles delivered to us in the first person, the quiet, unseen hand of the writer offering us streams of consciousness of a merry band of misanthropes and survivors that add so much colour and verve you can often savour the experience at the level of the sentence. His word choice is almost always audacious, as audacious and unexpected as his settings. As you begin to read deeper, the deeper pattern is revealed, all lives are ghostwritten by turns, our narrative selves picking and choosing the memories we lay down. In the end our robotic tech trump all of us, managing the complexity of human moral relativism through late night calls to a radio chat show in an attempt to make sense of the human zoo.

Sharper than a knife sandwich, Ghostwritten is curtain up on a unique and challenging literary talent who perptually defies convention and in the process, creates one all his own.

***** Five Stars


The Peripheral
The Peripheral
by William Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy but in such a GOOD way., 25 Aug. 2015
This review is from: The Peripheral (Paperback)
Embarrassing admission out of the way first. This is the first Gibson I’ve ever read, I know, call myself a geek, he of Neuromancer and inventor of the term cyberspace and super-cool take-home quotables like; “The future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet.” It won’t be the last Gibson experience I allow myself, but be warned this isn’t an easy read. This is eye-bleedingly complex at times actually, the literary equivalent of materialising in a Romania bakery and having to work out how to order breakfast with no prior knowledge of the language or even what Romania’s like with their coffee. Hang on in there for the first 100 pages though and you start to get it. Just.

Gibson drops us into a gorgeously realised future world. Well, actually two future worlds. A pre-apocalyptic America and a very noir post-apocalyptic London, a freak show London actually where peripherials are common place (think avatar but with the cyborg left in.) This is cool sci-fi, sharply intelligent with an emphasis on narrative rather than long rambling explanations of what the hell is going on. The future-tech is seamlessly weaved into the world-building, in post-apocalyptic London for example phones have left handsets and become melded to our biology with interfaces in the roof of the mouth and sigil’s (the visual equivalent of ring-tunes) flashing in the field of views of people receiving calls.

Flynne is our sleek and classy heroine she’s stuck in the past. She plays computer games for a living, massive multi-player on-line games that are the great grandchildren of World of Warcraft and War Thunder in the now. In one of these games she sees a murder, turns out later that she isn’t actually in a game but a future version of London and the murderers know she saw it and set out to come get her in the past.

Flynne’s time, pre-apocalypse, is mined by those in the future trying to influence history, attempting for example to prevent the apocalypse or to make a shed load of money. You know the old time travel trick, leave a penny in the past and let compound interest do its work so in the future you have a fat pile of cash. Gibson neatly side-steps paradoxes that bedevil time travel fiction by the conceit that immediately far future London connects with near future America then, because the future is changed, the past time-zone become what’s referred to as a stub. Basically the river of time bifurcates at the point of contact between the time-lines, creating a different unconnected future, on its own, a dead-end leading nowhere.

Anyway it’s all very deep, philosophical and so cool you really don’t mind being confused for much of the time. Gibson’s prose is sparser than a hermit’s contact list and the short chapters and dual narrative, one in the future with Wilf Netherton, one in the past with Flynne, are like twin hand-rails leading us through a dimly lit room. You imagine the whole narrative takes place, every scene, in half-light with people dressed in leathers looking slick and cool. Flynne travels avatar-like into the future to merge with a peripheral (robot humanoid thing that neither living or inorganic but a mash-up between) to help the authorities there identify the murderer, although, of course, that’s not the half of what’s really going on.

Su-bloody-perb Mr Gibson, I will be back for me.

Bat sh*t crazy sci-fi with an emphasis of the batty bit. But cool batty. This man’s mind is a beautiful mess.

***** Five stars


Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes)
Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes)
by Andrew Lane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Sherlock in second gear, but still Sherlock!, 16 Aug. 2015
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Sherlock for a new generation. Set in the period of the original stories, young Sherlock sans Watson cuts a less convincing figure. But it’s lots of fun, even if the plot takes willing suspension of disbelief to an uncomfortable level. What I loved was the bad guy, a genuinely unique horror with a grudge bigger than a James Bond villain’s secret mountain volcano base.

What I didn’t like was the anodyne writing, I thought it was uninventive and a little patronising, metaphors and similes older than Holmes’s violin. I mean, ‘Her scream cut the air like a knife!’ Having said that Andrew Lane is a passionate Holmes geek with writing credentials far and above this reviewer's and he clearly knows his market and writes very successfully for it. Perhaps my be-moaning lame

metaphors and workaday writing should be directed at the audience for whom he is clearly writing very engaging fiction. Come on lads (and lasses) demand more!

PS - This was recommended to me by my eldest son, a very reluctant reader, which probably proves the point about the simple accessibility of the prose style being perfect for the target audience.

*** Three stars


I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Is Trying To Be a Movie - It's Good But Not As Good As It Thinks It is, 21 July 2015
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Paperback)
I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes (Bantam Books 2013)

This is a novel that reads like a screenplay, not surprising as that's where Hayes found his initial success. It's actually a novel that reads like a screenplay told in voice-over by a Matt Damon/Tom Cruise type all-American hero-spy-action-hero who's been there and done it whilst wearing the t-shirt. He is the pilgrim of the title, a man with no past, a man with no future, a man of the moment, a hero of our times! Oops, flopped into Hollywood trailer voice there.

I Am Pilgrim is a spy flick told in first person prose, an odd choice of point of view as we spend much of the time effectively listening to our protagonist telling us third person back story (describing events he wasn't there for), everything we're told to avoid in good writing. Also, it is also a big book. A very big book. Hayes has a Pringles writing style, once you've popped a sentence you just can't stop. Having said that the first two hundred pages are more ready salted than Barbecue, heavy-going and a bit samey. The first person narration of third person events became, initially, irritating. But as the twisty-turny plot kicked in with it's big concept and big international budget we begin to forgive Terry his odd choice of point of view. This is a great beach book, it reads like much we've read before and whilst many people seem to think it's original, it's plot is a weave of so many popular themes that it covers quite familiar territory. It's definitely much better written than a Dan Brown (sorry, on re-reading that seems a faint sort of praise!). It's basically a movie that's been pressed between covers, with a car chase and a boat yard fight that seems to have tumbled straight from a Bond script.

The pilgrim of our title is after a terrorist, a lone wolf terrorist with a devious plan to release a virulent form of the small pox virus on America. The story tracks Pilgrim's ingenious attempts to track him down, a roller-coaster ride, some turns you see and some you don't. In the end it was a fun read, but I have to admit that some of the beginning and middle sections did drag a bit and the cheesiness of the lines did make me wince sometimes. There are crow-bar plot-moves and great special effects set-pieces but it's at its best however when Hayes thriller-writer instincts offer us

convolutions and clevernesses which we don't see coming. He is a very clever man and has clearly done buckets of research. The writing style is muscular and the characterisation is never allowed to get in the way of the steam-roller of a plot so much so that like a film set the characters are all facade and no depth. The last three hundred pages are a binge-fest of activity and I chomped through them, definitely a Pringles reading experience though, yes I'd eat more but I'm not sure it'd be all that good for me.

Also; suffers a bit from hyperbole, not as good as the superlatives on the cover or the rave reviews suggest. However, I will be back to buy more Pringles in future - The Year of the Locust from Terry Hayes is coming soon which is I suppose is all Mr Hayes and his publishers need to hear.

*** (Three stars)


All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet desperation at full volume - a beautiful book., 21 July 2015
Short sentences and chapters to carry the most beautiful, complex ideas. Spanning a human life-time All The Light We Cannot See uses a disordered time sequence, a weird third person present tense point of view and a forensic attention to the emotional experience of its characters to express something as insubstantial and beautiful as a sunset. It is astounding. Through a split narrative, shared between Marie-LeBlanc, the blind daughter of a Paris museum curator and Werner Pfenning, a curious, sparkly-eyed German boy living in the coal-mining town of Zollverein in 1934, we watch the loud, appalling abomination of war engulf ordinary lives.

This books reaches its fingers deep into the essence of human experience and comes up both bloody and beautiful. Werner's genius with electronics, hot valves and solder, is very quickly sucked into the Hitler Youth and what is good and kind corrupted. Werner remains untrammelled despite the horror around him, walking that tightrope between abhorrence and the simple need to stay alive which must have been many ordinary German's experience of Hitler's madness. Amongst the brutalising conditions of training camp, where he is selected because of his high aptitude, Werner sees the animal face of Nazism early. His brilliance with radios and maths means he is spared some of the worse excesses in that dog-eat-dog world of young masculine ebullience, but through the vehicle of his round-faced, kind-hearted friend, Freddy, we experience the mercilessness of the animal Nazism reveals.

As France falls in 1940 Marie (whose loving father has constructed a miniature model of their Paris neighbourhood so she can learn its streets and shape with her fingers) and her father go on the run. As the artefacts of the museum are distributed and hidden from the tide of advancing thuggery, her father takes with them to St Malo in Normandy the Sea of Flames, a famous and valuable diamond. And through a simple mechanism, as precise a clockwork, Doerr delivers chapters with alternating points of view, Werner, Marie, Werner, Marie, with the occasional side dish of a Nazi antiquities hunter, Von Rumpel, on the trail of the Sea of Flames. And just like clockwork, something numinous is captured above the whirling of cogs of this carefully constructed narrative, something as insubstantial as the time on a watch's face. This narrative offers us something both ordinary and exotic. Werner is in a Nazi uniform but retains his humanity, Marie is lost in a town under occupation, bereft of hope, and yet manages to make meaning with her Great Uncle's radio project. And that is the great contradiction of the human condition, benighted and mortal, yet amongst the soiled tragedy of our lives, there's the opportunity for acts of courage and hope, for lighted arrows of kindness to streak across the black that's the pointlessness of our being here at all.

The fine threads of this story are beautifully braided as the narrative heads for crescendo, and through the device of the radio, both physical and narrative, Werner and Marie are brought together in the crumbled masonry of St Malo in 1944 as the tide finally turns against the Nazis. Werner is some kind of hero, as is Marie, as are the whole sorry parade of the damaged and destroyed we see along the way. Having lost her father, taken as a prisoner when he returned briefly to Paris in the early part of the occupation, Marie has been looked after by her Great-Uncle, Etienne, a recluse with a powerful radio up in his loft. This radio is used to broadcast messages to the Allies from the French Resistance, messages Marie brings folded inside warm loaves of bread from the bakery in town. Werner and Marie's lives enwrap so beautifully at the end, amongst the desolation, his true nature and hers meeting in an elegiac scene that is as uplifting as it is ultimately tragic.

All The Light We Cannot See expresses something inexpressible in its 500+ pages. All The Light We Cannot See talks of the dead and of the living, it shows us that living your true life, in whatever circumstances is a majestic and grandiose thing. Thoreau said; "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still inside them." And this is true, you see it in the rheumy eyes of the old guy ahead of you in the check-out queue or the shop assistant piling his groceries down the conveyor. In All The Light We Cannot See we see that quiet desperation against the backdrop of war and human life is so beautiful and tragic, but with the novelist's powers at least Marie and Werner's desperation is quiet no longer.

Read it. The length and themes of a classic with the page-turning quality of a bestseller.

Five stars (*****)


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