Add to Your Book List All the Light We Cannot See

In just the first few weeks of January I’ve come across several 2017 “reading challenges”. They’re lists that go from “light” (13 books per year) to “obsessed” (one per week). Some of these lists suggest that the reader try a variety of types, e.g. a book about a hobby, a book about science, Christian living reader, one written in the twentieth century, one about writing, and so on.

I stay away from lists like these as I consider myself definitely on the “light” side of the spectrum. But that’s partly because I have generally discounted in the count anything I don’t read slowly for leisure. By leisure I mean book club reads, favourite genres, the ones you spend hours with at night time, while in bed eating chocolate. But when I counted up everything I’d read (or at least was part-way through) in the first three weeks of this new year, to my surprise, my tally was seven.

all-the-light-we-cannot-seeOne of those was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was a book-club-leisure-in-bed-with-chocolate read. And I loved it. It’ll be a book I remember, not one I simply needed to tick off on an “obsessed” reader list. It was published a couple of years ago and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is set during WWII and revolves around two young people from enemy sides linked through war and the radio. The radio, of course, was an important medium of both propaganda and rebellion at that time. Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, falls on the side of “rebellion”, while Werner, a German orphan, falls on the side of “propaganda”. Thrown into the mix is a valuable diamond that is secreted out of the Paris museum at which Marie-Laure’s father works. The stone brings into the story themes of desire, and blessing or curse, depending on how the diamond is treasured or viewed. The characters are well-drawn and complex and I came to care deeply about them.

The chapters are very short and alternate between Marie-Laure’s story and Werner’s, until right near the end when the two merge. This makes for easy reading, adds to the building tension and draws the reader in with a growing sense of foreboding. The sentences, too, are short and the vocabulary economical (I disagree with one reviewer’s viewpoint that the book was verbose and too full of adjectives). I’ve made a mental note to emulate this writer if I get the chance to write fiction.

So, if you’re a book list person, or want a meaningful story to immerse yourself in, I highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See.

Language App Offers Bite-size Learning

FRENCH 2

When I was at high school I did two years of French. Despite loving the language I chose to carry history as a subject instead of French through to my senior years. BIG mistake. During the 1980s apartheid education school history in South Africa was full of propaganda, the great Afrikaner trek and nothing else. I spent three years suffocating during lessons and the rest of my adult life yearning to do French again. Enter Duolingo!

 

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Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is just too depressing

I have noticed in recent films a welcome focus on relationships other than the romantic; friendship and filial love have both been highlighted. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love focuses on the latter, although not with enough depth to make it a good movie.

In this story we see retired American philosophy professor Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) developing a friendship with young, free-spirited dance teacher, Pauline Lauby (Clemence Poesy). Matthew is a lonely widower mourning the death of his wife, Joan. Joan loved France and it is because of her that Matthew continues to live in Paris after her death despite his not being able (or willing) to speak French and despite his adult children Kate (a brusque Gillian Anderson) and Miles (Justin Kirk) living in the USA.

Matthew meets Pauline by chance on the bus one day and this warm-hearted young woman readily welcomes him as a friend. An unusual relationship develops, with both welcoming the other into their very different lives. When a depressed Matthew tries to take his own life Pauline and his children rush to his bedside. Miles especially has a rather tortured relationship with his father while Pauline sees in Matthew the father figure she lost long ago. All three learn lessons about themselves and each other as they make meaningful connections along the way.

Despite these deepening attachments Matthew remains depressed throughout – shown starkly in a pile of unmoved, unread newspapers in his apartment.

I found this relentless gloominess tiresome, a feeling not even the lovely Clemence Poesy or the appealing foreign setting could lift. Michael Caine’s American accent was just horrible and I was rather glad when Mr. Morgan’s Last Love was over.

Mr. Morgan’s Last Love opens at Cinema Nouveau Theatres in South Africa on 12 September 2014.

 

Michael Caine and Pauline Clémence Poésy in Mr Morgan's Last Love. Photo: supplied by Ster Kinekor

Michael Caine and Clémence Poésy in Mr Morgan’s Last Love. Photo: supplied by Ster Kinekor