It takes Marie-Laure three days before she meets Etienne. On the third day, she finds a whelk shell in her new bathroom. To her amazement, she then discovers a long trail of shells, stretching from the bathroom to the fifth floor of the building. A voice calls Marie-Laure to come in to a room. There, Marie-Laure finds her great-uncle.
Before Marie-Laure meets Etienne, she already forms an impression of him. Etienne seems whimsical, clever, and prone to playing games—just like Marie-Laure’s father. Etienne also immediately associates himself with shells and whelks, already a source of interest for Marie-Laure and symbolism for the novel itself.
Etienne greets Marie-Laure, and asks her if she’d like to see his collection of radios. He shows her stereos, and radios he’s built with his own hands. Marie-Laure instinctively like Etienne—he seems calm, like a great, old tree. Etienne shows Marie-Laure books, including Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. As Etienne and Marie-Laure get to know each other, Marie-Laure’s father is walking down the streets, watching Nazi soldiers keep patrol.
Etienne shares many of his great-niece’s interests, including science and exploration, and is clearly clever and skilled with his hands, like Marie-Laure’s father. Etienne also owns many radios, reminding us of the connections between Marie-Laure’s life and Werner’s—radio seems a crucial aspect of this connection. The presence of the Nazi occupiers disrupts this otherwise idyllic scene.