Etienne and Marie-Laure continue to bond over books. One day Marie-Laure plucks up the courage to ask Etienne a question she’s been thinking of for some time: why doesn’t he ever go outside? Etienne replies that he gets “uneasy” being outside, and prefers the security of his radios and books. Marie-Laure also asks Etienne about the mysterious locked bedroom where her grandfather Henri supposedly lived. Etienne takes Marie-Laure to the bedroom, and opens the door. He leads her through the room to an attic full of machinery.
Doerr has been preparing us for a big climax regarding the locked room of the hall (if this were truly a Gothic novel, the climax of the novel would be when Marie-Laure finds this room). But he dashes our expectations soon: Etienne takes Marie-Laure to the room, and calmly opens the door. There is no horrifying mystery here, only more links to the radio and potential connections between Marie-Laure and Werner.
Etienne shows Marie-Laure the details of the attic. There is a gramophone there, playing a record. Marie-Laure can hear that the record contains a lecture on the history of coal (which we, the readers, recognize as the same lecture Werner and Jutta listened to years before). Etienne explains that his brother, Henri (Mari-Laure’s grandfather) was good at everything. Years ago, during World War I, Etienne and Henri worked in the army, building telegraph lines. It was during this time that Etienne developed his fear of the outdoors—at night, in the snow, Etienne saw the enemy soldiers shoot bright flares into the night, hoping to illuminate French troops. Etienne explains that Henri died in the war, years ago. To honor his brother, Etienne plays the ten science lectures that Henri recorded as a young man. Because Etienne only has one set of records, they get gradually quieter the more they’re played. Etienne explains that he thought that by playing his dead brother’s voice, he could bring his brother back to life.
We learn several things in this important chapter. Although Henri LeBlanc is Marie-Laure’s grandfather, he’s seemingly even more important to Werner Pfennig. As we now recognize, Werner grew up listening to Henri LeBlanc’s broadcasts on science, unbeknownst to either Henri or Marie-Laure. The interconnectedness of the two storylines in the novel is becoming more and more complex, but also more visible. Moreover, the theme of family is growing more poignant—the characters imagine their loved ones as spirits, who can only be communicated with—and even then, never successfully—via fragile methods like replaying someone’s voice on the radio. Here we also understand why the Frenchman’s voice seemed to be slowly getting fainter as Werner and Jutta listened to him—the memory of Henri and his recorded voice, like everything else, is subject to the laws of entropy and decay. It is also here that we learn the source of Etienne’s agoraphobia (a fear of going outside or into unfamiliar environments)—he possibly has post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in World War I.