37. Pulling Apart a Pulitzer

Author: Nola Published: about 2 years ago.
Tags: fiction, competitions, craft, imagery, Pulitzer, awards, prizes, novels, characterisation, characters, plot, preparation, revision, time, Anthony Doerr Category: Writing tips

I was thrilled that Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. So what makes this book so special?

Intricate plot – The book is a parallel narrative that alternates between the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner from 1934 through World War II. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl whose father is the Master of Locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, while orphaned Werner has a knack for electronics and gains entry into a prestigious Nazi school. As the story weaves back and forth, many little threads appear that are tied together brilliantly when the two finally meet in 1944. Each scene is laden with details that keep moving the story forward. There are poignant moments, but it’s ultimately a book of hope that stays with the reader long after the final page.

Three-dimensional characters – The main characters are beautifully drawn, as we live through the events that shaped Marie-Laure and Werner. However, there are also intriguing secondary characters, such as Uncle Etienne who suffers PTSD as a result of his experiences in World War I and Frederick, a gentle boy brutalised by the Nazis. The characters jump off the page and make you a part of their world.

Evocative prose – There is beautiful imagery throughout the book, with powerful word choices, striking metaphors and adept incorporation of the five senses.

"… and in the darkness, it feels as if Werner has reached bottom, as if he has been whirling deeper all this time, like the Nautilus sucked under the maelstrom, like his father descending into the pits …" (Werner, after several days trapped in the cellar of a building that’s been bombed, p. 450)

"What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models. Mazes in the modules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles." (Marie-Laure’s thoughts as she hides in a secret compartment in Uncle Etienne’s house, pp. 452-453)

Preparation – Anthony Doerr didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. He studied writing in his Master of Fine Arts degree and wrote a memoir, a novel, and award-winning short stories before this major work was published. Of course you don’t need a university degree in order to write engaging fiction, but you do have to work on your craft, whether that’s through enrolling in courses, reading books and magazines on writing, or being part of a critique group.

Time – This book was written over a 10-year period and it’s easy to see why. The amount of research and revision required must have been phenomenal. Exquisite writing doesn’t happen overnight, but is well worth the effort.

What novels would you recommend to someone who’s interested in taking their writing to the next level? I’d be interested in your suggestions.

Comments read 0 comments so far

Comments for this post have closed.