Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis

If you have read my blog over the past few years, than you know that Connie Willis is one of my favorite authors. I love her humor and her attention to detail. The books she has written about time-traveling historians fulfill some of my favorite fields: history, comedy, sci-fi. So I was thrilled when I found out she was writing another book about future historians traveling back to World War II (not just any historians. This book is a return to the world she created in two other books. It makes for a more complete story if you've read her other time travel books). Then I discovered she was only releasing half of the book at a time. It is not a series. It is literally one story that stops dead in the middle. You cannot read one of the books without reading the other. I would rather the book had been published together (as though I have any say in the matter, right?) But it did make me hesitate before I read the books.

Blackout was the first book I read on a Nook app. (As an aside, reading on a tablet is worth a discussion of its own which I'll save for another day.) I appreciated Willis' attention to detail. She has done extensive research into World War II London and her characters and situations are believable. Yes, the main premise is time-traveling historians but, Willis writes an extremely vivid, realistic War experience. The book jumps between different characters researching the War who find themselves in the middle of horrifying events.

Jump to book two: All Clear. This book literally picks up right where the first one left off. Around page 300 I was frustrated. I was 800 pages into the story and there was a lot of second-guessing and doubling back. Willis spent too much time having the characters question themselves, and debate the same issues over and over. I remember feeling the same way 3/4 of the way through The Doomsday Book.

Around page 900 Willis finally started to wrap parts of the story up. Characters who had been introduced early in the book were finally explained - the connections between different figures appeared. Some of the ideas introduced very briefly in the beginning of the first book reappeared and started to connect. I kept reading.

Then I hit the last 150 pages and could not put the book down. Willis, in her typical fashion, tied everything together beautifully. It wasn't a happy Christmas bow - not everyone ended up with the perfect ending. There are questions left, but not in such a way to feel as though she's just trying to write another book and make more money. And the last two pages made it all worthwhile. Willis created a link I had not seen coming but was so appropriate. It does make me want to go back and reread To Say Nothing of the Dog - the first Willis book I read and the beginning of an literary obsession.

I think she could have cut out 100+ pages in the middle. I wish the book had been released as a single 1000-page tome. But, I remain a die-hard fan.

(This is the "small" image. I don't know how to make it smaller. Apologies!)

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