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All Clear Paperback – October 25, 2011
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“Enthralling . . . a story so packed with thrills, comedy, drama and a bit of red herring that the result is apt to satisfy the most discriminating, and hungry, reader.”—The Denver Post
“[Connie] Willis can tell a story like no other. . . . One of her specialties is sparkling, rapid-fire dialogue; another, suspenseful plotting; and yet another, dramatic scenes so fierce that they burn like after-images in the reader’s memory.”—The Village Voice
“Ambitious, and moving . . . with a lovely twist at the end.”—The San Diego Union-Tribune
“[Willis’s] re-creation of wartime England is meticulous, energetic and exhaustive.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] tour de force.”—The Charlotte Observer
From the Inside Flap
All Clear is the magisterial conclusion to Connie Willis's epic, two-volume account of love, war, and time travel. Like its predecessor, Blackout, it is both a brilliantly constructed work of science fiction and a masterful recreation of a pivotal moment in 20th century history.The story begins in the immediate aftermath of Blackout. Three time-traveling scholars, each investigating a different aspect of World War II, are stranded together in London during the height of the Blitz. Their increasingly desperate attempts to return home to the year 2060 form the core of a narrative that ranges freely, and with great authority, across time and space, from the evacuation of Dunkirk to the ultimate triumph of V-E Dayand beyond.The result is a work of great ingenuity and bottomless humanity that uses chaos theory, meticulous research, and a dizzying array of temporal paradoxes to reconstruct a vanished era, illuminating that era through the varied perspectives of the soldiers, sailors, shop girls, and ambulance drivers who struggled through it. Together, Blackout and All Clear constitute a seamless, deeply moving masterpiece that will be readand rememberedfor many years to come. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Connie Willis wrote a tour de force about these characters and history "The Domesday Book" is a great novel and one few writers of any genre could have pulled off. But this two volume set (and both are equally necessary or unnecessary) boggs down in minutia almost immediately and doesn't move forward until we read well past the half way point of the second book.
I always enjoy Connie Willis' novels and stories. I'm a guy and she's a romance writer, and her protagonists are women and the action in the stories is subordinate to relationships and feelings. The (good) men are usually self-sacrificing, nonthreatening Jesus types. In other words, Ms Willis is a woman writing a womanly book from a woman's point of view -- but of course that was also true of Jane Austen. Her touch is sure and the feelings invoked are honest and believable and I'm a fan.
Note that the two volumes add up to something like thirteen hundred pages. A long read that covers a lot of ground. It's set in the Blitz (two Blitzes really) and beautifully researched, so think of it as a historical romance.
Blackout/All Clear has its flaws (which I will get to in a minute) but these books are also easy to recommend. Perhaps the best recommendation I can make is this: I cried at the end--more than once--which is not something I do often with books. There are some great moments of suspense and beauty in these books, and I am thankful I stuck with the lengthy and intricate story.
These books are rich with history and characters, and a patient reader is rewarded with a series of overlapping and intertwined short stories that evolve and combine into a wonderfully complex puzzle of a plot populated with vivid characters. I cared for the characters and found I was fascinated with the tales of how Londoners came together, sacrificed, helped and protected each other and often went about their lives at a time when bombs and missiles were falling by the hundreds and thousands on their city. This is one of those rare books that makes history come alive, neither sacrificing the story nor the history.
These books are historical fiction wrapped in a thin veneer of science fiction. I do not think my review will give away any spoilers, but anyone familiar with Willis' other books will know that the world she has created is one where time travel is a reality and historians traverse time to experience and observe what they previously could only ready and study. Blackout and All Clear take readers to WWII Dover, Dunkirk, Bletchley Park, St. Paul's, Trafalgar Square and elsewhere during the war, and they give a strong and immediate sense of the way the British persevered during some of the darkest and most difficult times in human history. I was thoroughly swept away and truly moved by some of the stories of sacrifice, bravery and loss. These books were literally (and not just figuratively) a page-turner for me. I had a hard time putting it down.
So, why am I not giving this a five-star review? While I found the books very rewarding, they are not without their flaws, and it was within Willis' grasp to produce something truly great and not merely very good with a little more discipline (and, frankly, more than a little bit of editing.) Some readers complain that it is difficult to keep up with the overlapping story and characters--the book leaps forward and backward within the war years and outside of them (to 1995 and 2060) and layers in many characters, and it can be difficult to keep track of it all. The best advice I can give people is to simply approach these books as if you're reading short stories and not to worry about keeping track of it all--simply enjoy each plotline on its own and, as the books progress, the relationships between seemingly unrelated people and plots converge.
For me, the biggest flaw was that Blackout/All Clear needed more than a bit of editing. Or perhaps Willis should have trusted her readers to put the pieces together more quickly than do the characters in her story.
It is giving very little away to say that central themes of this book include that the historians who go back in time worry about returning to their contemporary period and fret about the impact they may have on history--but a little bit of this sort of worry goes a long, long way. Time after time, characters torture themselves about whether their presence may have inadvertently lost the war and seek signs they’ve created “discrepancies” in the timeline (which, for all their worries and effort, is an unknowable topic that gets tiresome well before Willis’ characters let it go.) Repeatedly, the characters chase around looking for ways to return home (long after readers know--and the characters should have realized--they cannot). And even once the pieces are brought together toward the end, Willis cannot help having her characters ponder time and again how one thing led to another. I found myself having a dialog with Willis, the author, wanting to tell her, “We get it! Move on!”
I have no idea how often characters cite the proverbial "For Want of a Nail" rhyme in these books, but it is done A LOT—dozens of times, I’d guess. The repeated bludgeoning of readers with the meaning of this proverb came, for me, to represent how the author needed to stop reinforcing and returning to the same topics time and time and time again. The repetition of these themes detracts rather than enhances the wonderful narrative and characters Willis has created, and I found myself wondering why these seemingly smart characters were unable to reach obvious conclusions sooner. I am sure I am not alone in that I worked out the central problem at the core of this book 500 PAGES before the characters do, themselves.
So, these books have some flaws, Willis could have trusted readers to work out the pieces, and this very good 1100-page work could have been an amazing 800-page book with more discipline and a sharper focus on what is necessary or not. That said, I once again want to reinforce that despite some frustration and even though they sometimes tried my patience just a bit, I still found Blackout and All Clear very rewarding and affecting. If I gripe a bit about these books, it's only because they were so good and it was apparent how tantalizingly close greatness was.
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