The story’s structure is not continuous but flits around in time and place and most chapters deal with Werner or Marie-Laure separately. They are all short and punchy.
One of our members likened this novel to a ‘big baggy 19th century one’, in the way it has lots of stories within the work as well as lots of minor characters impinging on the main characters. There are some wonderful portrayals of people – such as Madame Manec who is a great cook and has looked after the reclusive Etienne LeBlanc for years but immediately warms to Marie-Laure and becomes a great support for her as well as dealing with practical matters. One member loved Jutta, for her wisdom and conscience helping her brother to work out deep moral concerns, even though she is stuck in Germany in the orphanage. We all admired Antony Doerr’s different perspective on war through these characters – he makes them very appealing despite the horrors they witness and experience.
Frederick, Werner’s sensitive friend is another person we found appealing, despite his tragic destiny.While at the army training camp Werner learns from Frederick’s strength of character and morality and how to be human and survive the war. He realised that picking on the weaker person was not going to help him. Frederick’s mother seemed to be so uncaring and nasty before the army inflicted the torture on the boy. This experience disables him. His mother felt guilty afterwards and showed her love by caring for him for the rest of his life.
Frau Elena, the matron of the orphanage is not a stereotype matron in that she is compassionate and caring and a good cook. She also recognizes Werner’s brilliance. As well she is feisty with the authorities. We all hated the rape scene in Berlin and were shocked by the girls’ submissiveness.