One of my favorite novels. I read it recently, while in Reunion. And it is one of the most beautiful stories I ever read, it is written in such beautiful prose, the setting is incredible, it has so much depth, and plays with the fantastic just a tiny little bit.
It won the Pulitzer price in 2015, and I’m not surprised.
It’s the story of a blind girl, Marie-Laure, and her father, in France during World War II. Her father works at the Natural History Museum as a keymaker. Marie-Laure grows up in the museum, and the biologists and botanists there nurture her love for the wonders of nature, especially for snails, with their endless shapes and forms. They let her go through taxonomic collections, smell and touch and discover animals and fossils and bones with all her senses. Her father patiently teaches her to find her way through the world without seeing. Until they have to flee from the German invasion. They end up on the Atlantic cost, in the house of an uncle who has not his quarters since he came back from the First World War. Now close to the sea, Marie-Laure can discover even more snails, and then the big radio in her uncle’s attic, and a conspiracy that bakes messages in bread. And then there is a young German orphan, on the other side of Europe, with white hair, who turns out to be able to fix every radio.
I’m sure it’s also the romantic approach to nature and museums, to keys and stones and sciences, and to reading Jules Verne, that captured me. This is exactly the kind of story that I love. There is no background setting I enjoy more. This is who I was, as little girl. Collecting stones, reading about dinosaurs and fossils and gemstones and dreaming about treasures 20.000 miles below the sea. But this story is weaved into a historical setting that changes quickly, and drastically. With losses and gains. It’s about one very resilient girl, and about her colourful world with no light.
It’s written so smoothly, and beautifully, and such a calming pace. It’s a tale, and you tell yourself, there is probably not one keymaker-dad in the world who fabricates little intricate machines for his daughter to open up like riddles, who works in a place where his daughter can roam around discovering fossiles and snails and learn Latin names of plants from botanists, and where the most expensive jewel with possible magic powers is hidden behind mysterious locks. And there probably has never been. But it’s a tale, and it draws you in, and it’s just close enough to the real world and its sorrows to make you believe this could actually happen.