All The Light We Cannot See The Fault in Our Stars (An Inside Joke)

All the lightCourtesy of Mr. AMB:

Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See is a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize-winner, so it hardly needs praise. I generally liked it, but I have four critical observations.

First, Doerr played a trick with the structure of the book. To keep the reader from being bored, the book relies upon short chapters which jump back and forth from the climax and the true chronology. The trick worked and kept the book interesting, but it’s still a trick, and after a while it felt a bit mechanical and manipulative. (Amusingly, the last time I saw that trick used was the movie Deadpool, which I thought did a better job with it. I doubt the Pulitzer Committee would appreciate the comparison.)

Second, as The Morning News and The New Republic noted, the book reeks of “twee.” (“Twee” is defined as “excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental.” For more on the rise of the twee aesthetic, see this Atlantic article.) Unlike Dominic Green at The New Republic, however, I didn’t think that this “turn[ed] the Holocaust into a sentimental mess.” I thought it was charming. It’s possible to discuss serious subjects — and even unspeakable horrors — in a sentimental way, as Roberto Benigni proved with Life is Beautiful. I similarly didn’t see, like Green did, All The Light We Cannot See drawing any sort of equivalence between the Nazis and the Allies in World War II.

Third, I didn’t mind the twee until Doerr killed it. The last fifth of the book should have been omitted. Gone With The Wind ends with a beautiful cliffhanger, leaving the eventual outcome to the reader’s imagination. All The Light We Cannot See ends with a prolonged bummer. If you’re going to spin me a fairy tale, don’t unwind it as life takes its toll on the characters.

Fourth, while reading the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the it was meant for teenagers.* Indeed, the overall tone of the book is highly similar to The Fault In Our Stars, i.e., a mixture of teenage twee and tragedy. That doesn’t bother me; what bothers me is the completely different reception the two books received. All The Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, whereas The Fault In Our Stars won a bunch of awards with “children” and “youth” in their title. Having read both, I don’t see any real difference in the maturity of the themes, the depth of the characters, the complexity of the plot, the sophistication of the prose, or any of the supposed markers of “adult” or “serious” fiction.

Anyone who loved All The Light We Cannot See but thumbs their nose at adults who read books labeled for a younger audience is a hypocrite.

*Hence the title of this post. Mr. AMB referred to Doerr’s book as “All The Light We Cannot See Because Of The Fault In Our Stars” in conversations with me. Now, I can’t separate the two books in my mind.


  1. I think I might just read it even if your husband “critiqued” it! I actually enjoy books that go back and foward in time! And I did love deadpool. I have a feeling I need to get out of my confort zone and read something new!

  2. Interesting! It’s amazing how the reputation of the author can completely influence how a book is received. I didn’t feel the twee in All the Light We Cannot See, and I did like it, but agree with all you wrote in its criticism.
    This reminds me of One Day by David Nicolls which was nothing more than chick lit to me, comparable to Sophie Kinsella (who I adore, don’t get me wrong). But Nicolls got lots of praise, and literary acclaim for that book, which screamed of sexism to me. (hehe, I’m still annoyed about that book years later)

  3. If you don’t mind me saying, I totally disagree with your review! I thought this book was beautifully and so delicately written that it didn’t strike me as twee at all, not in the least bit. His use of language was creative and challenging and I thought he created empathetic characters that kept the story really engaging. I also reviewed the book on my blog, but obviously came to a much more positive conclusion!

  4. Along with a lot of other WW 2 books, fiction and non-fiction, I read this novel last year. I figured it was well-written and I didn’t mind the twee (which I’ve never heard of before) at all. In fact, I was disappointed that the two young people didn’t get together at the end of the story. I’m sentimental, I guess.

    1. Yeah, based on what Mr. AMB said, the ending is a little disappointing. It sounds like a good book overall, though. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Nice review. I don’t think I want to read the book , though. I am no fan of twee. I don’t think I want either of you to review any of my titles; you’re both too astute, observant, and clever, and there’s only so much scotch in the world. 😉

    1. One of the reasons I’ve largely stopped writing standard reviews (except on occasion) is because of how overly critical I was. Some of the earliest reviews on this blog are just too harsh. Now, I usually write about the issues raised in books. I’m happier that way.

  6. I agree with your third point whole-heartedly! I generally have a hard time with books that jump into the future, etc, to tie all the loose ends together, etc. I have never read The Fault in Our Stars, but now that you mention it, I could definitely see this book being marketed as “YA” instead of “Literary Fiction” (not that one genre is necessarily better/worse than the other). Thank you for sharing your thoughts – it has definitely given me a lot to think about this morning.

    1. I’ve never read The Fault in Our Stars either (This is AMB, not Mr. AMB), though I do enjoy YA lit. I should probably read it. Thanks for stopping by!

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