Following Marie-Laure

All the Light We Cannot See


Mary Margaret Chappell

I am an American living in Cancale. I rediscovered the Corsair City through a novel by Anthony Doerr, an American writer

I've been incredibly lucky to be able to do what makes me happy in a place I love so much. And during those times of the year when I'm not in Cancale, the town still impregnates everything I do ...

And what I'm doing is....

My Cancale Kitchen 

Mary Margaret Chappell

It took me a while to get round to reading All the Light We Cannot See

This best-selling American novel is set in Saint-Malo during the Second World War. Despite the recommendations i got from many friends, despite it's winning Pulitzer Prize, I kept my distance from this book at first. Could an American novelist really understand the Corsair City? When a good friend sent me the novel I really had no choice but to dive right in.

There, I discovered that Anthony Doerr is a master. From his pen, Saint-Malo opens like one of the secret boxes that Marie-Laure Le Blanc, the blind girl of the novel, receives from her father on each birthday. It was beautiful. Rich in details and very well written. Very quickly, I was immersed in a city that I knew well - and yet that I did not know at all.

In search of 4 rue Vauborel

Saint-Malo old town is only part of the attraction of the city - you have to visit the beaches, the city walls and the new town too, to really appreciate it. I rarely go into the walled city any more. However, to find the Rue Vauborel and its narrow five-storey houses (six if you count the attic ... and those who read the book know how important the attic is!), Home of Marie-Laure and of his great-uncle Etienne, the old town it is.

Taking the time (and the GPS on my phone) I find 4 rue Vauborel reasonably quickly. To the west of the walled city, the address is pretty disappointing - just a big block of flats rebuilt after the war. But all around, there are plenty of houses that look like the house described in the book. Which one, I wonder, inspired the author? This house with its abandoned look? That one with its almost medieval tower? Or one of those three buildings stuck in a blind alley?

In the footsteps of Marie-Laure

Eyes on the roofs, I enter the dense, closed, and labyrinthine city. Pretty quickly I realise I have to keep my eyes on the cobbles, as my feet stumble dangerously on the pavement. Gray, pink, white, black, smooth, curved, elegant, worn - how and why such a variety of stones? How did not I never them before? (And how could a blind girl have walked on these cobblestones without falling several times?)

Next to the cobblestones, I enter the labyrinth of streets, stairways, and silent passages - yet the rush of tourists is never far away. The sun rays pierce the shadow of the buildings.

I follow the paths back to the light, then to the walls of the city. I go around them from below for the first time, discovering a gallery of niches, doors and caves that you could never imagine when walking along the walls above.


The bakery

I find a bakery and for a big loaf, my version of the "ordinary bread" bought by Marie-Laure every day in the novel. Alas I'm not served by a baker from the Resistance, and my bread doesn't contain a secret message. But once at home, it will prolong the memory of my moments lived between the real and the imaginary!

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