In light of Doerr’s recent release, Cloud Cuckoo Land, I wanted to rank the three novels he’s written up to this point. I almost wrote a ranking of Doerr’s stories (including short stories), but to do that one justice, I think I would need to read Memory Wall and Shell Collector again first.
3. Cloud Cuckoo Land
From the outset, I could tell this was Doerr’s attempt to outdo what he did in All the Light by including more characters, storylines, and even time periods. For the most part, I would say that he succeeded. As always, Doerr’s description and setup–particularly the Constantinople storyline–is detailed, intricate, and compelling, which only makes the climax of the story all the more satisfying to read. Because of the added layers to this story, it did take awhile for the story to truly get going, and at times, all the jumping around from one perspective to the next felt a bit jarring. But once the story did get going, oh man, it was enthralling, to say the least.
2. About Grace
The often overlooked and underrated novel of Doerr’s. As much as I love his two protagonists in All the Light, David Winkler–the protagonist in this novel–may be his best constructed character. Part of the reason why is that we spend the entire novel with David. In contrast, his other two novels jump around in perspectives, which does have its strengths, for sure, but also hinders the reader from knowing the character as well as a character like David. Grace is easily the most simplistic of his three stories, but I think that’s also part of what makes it so great.
1. All the Light We Cannot See
If these were different categories, I would have All the Light as equally a nostalgia pick as well as a this-is-one-of-the-best-books-I’ve-read picks. I remember on my honeymoon walking into a Barnes & Noble in downtown Seattle and picking up a copy of this book. I was hooked from page one. Everything about this novel is wonderful. From Marie’s relationship with first her father, and then her withdrawn and haunted Uncle, Etienne, to seeing Werner’s slow transformation from an orphan boy to Hitler Youth, and then to see how their arcs converge was mesmerizing. One of Doerr’s best descriptions (and that’s saying something, because Doerr is excellent with the details (sometimes to a fault)) was a scene when Marie and her father were in the French countryside, after having escaped out of Paris, and then turned to see German bombers light up the sky.
Suffice it to say, all of these novels are worth your time, but if I had to rank these, this is where they would currently fall. Now onto rereading his short stories!