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Blackout Hardcover – February 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
With her trademark understated, eloquent style, Willis expands the conceit of her Hugo and Nebula winning 1982 story Fire Watch into a page-turning thriller, her first novel since 2001's Passage. Three young historians travel from 2060 to early 1940s Britain for firsthand research. As Eileen handles a measles outbreak during the children's evacuation and Polly struggles to work as a London shopgirl, hints of trouble with the time-travel equipment barely register on their radar. Historians aren't supposed to be able to change the course of history, but Mike's actions at Dunkirk may disrupt both the past and the future. Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale that cuts off abruptly on the last page. Readers allergic to cliffhangers may want to wait until the second volume comes out in November 2010. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Reviewers were delighted to see any new book by Connie Willis, but particularly one that returns to the time-travel premise she explored so deftly in classics such as Doomsday Book. Most critics felt that she expanded further on that premise here, balancing more interesting characters with a wealth of historical detail while also complicating the assumptions of the universe she creates. A few critics felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information on World War II-era London yielded by the characters' (and Willis's) research. But the more common frustration was the way in which Willis split the story into two volumes: the next part, All Clear, will not be out until fall 2010.
Top customer reviews
I read Blackout/All Clear for the first time 6 months ago and like every other Connie Willis novel I have ever read, I couldn't put it down. The story was longer than it had to be, but overall I enjoyed the read and found the ending to be satisfying. For more details, see below:
First The Negative: The story is long, and at times slow moving, and has plenty of things that don't make sense if you really think about it. The negative reviews aptly spell out everything that was wrong with this book so I won't waste time here telling you all the plot weaknesses. Most of the negative comments are true, and the people who don't like this story have a well taken point. I will limit my own negative comment to the fact that these book(s) are too long and should have been condensed into one single book with neater and tighter story. This didn't need to be two books and if you ask your fans to pay double for a story, you should really deliver something that warrants it. I think that with some skillful editing it could have been more readable without losing anything except some flab. But the bottom line was that it was gripping enough to keep me engaged for more than 1200 pages and I liked it enough to read both books a second time.
Now For The Positive: I liked the story; cared about the characters and rooted for them. I enjoyed the wit and humor, the mystery, and the romance that are woven into the storyline. The plot is extremely complex and the way Ms. Willis takes a multitude of disjointed plots and sub-plots and weaves them into a neatly ending story is such fun to read. Her drawing room wit, comedy of manners and sense of the ridiculous makes me think of Jane Austen and the way she handles complexity is reminiscent of Charles Dickens. (Please be kind! I realize that her works aren't the social masterpieces that Dickens produced - I am only commenting on the style of complex storylines full of coincidence, irony and surprise. She does this well, although not as well as Dickens.)
I find it interesting that some of the things that people don't like about Connie Willis stories are also criticisms that are often leveled at Charles Dickens: namely that the stories are long, boring, and complicated. These are the very aspects I find to be so entertaining about both authors. And while Dickens does a better job of tying up every single loose end, I have to admit that I prefer Connie Willis's lighter approach of weaving humor and satire into even the heaviest of storylines.
Blackout and All Clear, just like Doomsday Book before them took me into a world that I had heard of but didn't come close to understanding. I had no idea that the Blitz was so destructive to the people of England and was entirely oblivious to the suffering and deprivation Great Britain and all of Europe suffered during WWII.
Some people (especially British folks who tried to read these books) were put off by the poorly done accents and the stereotypes. But I think that is excusable because the books have a strong element of comedy and farce - everything in them is a caricature. Even the American tourists that pop up in the 1995 portion of the story are overblown to the point of ridiculous. This is a deliberate writing style and one that I enjoy. The tone of the story is exaggerated, almost like a stage whisper, and the accents and stereotypes are not problematic at all when taken the the intended spirit.
In spite of the obvious weaknesses, I found it to be a fun story and Ms. Willis succeeded in taking me out of my own world for awhile and into the Blitz of WWII. It was done in such a way that the serious and tragic nature of the subject matter was served up with enough humor to make it bearable - even uplifting. I was stimulated and entertained and at the end of the day, isn't that what fiction is all about?
Blackout and All Clear deal with many of the same themes as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, such as the quiet courage of ordinary people in devastating circumstances, but for me, this long novel split into two volumes lacks the emotional power of Doomsday Book and the lighthearted charm of To Say Nothing of the Dog. The trio of time-traveling historians introduced here isn't nearly as memorable as Kivrin Engle or Verity Kindle and Ned Henry, either. The most accurate adjective I can think of to describe them is "stressed," and while that's understandable given their plight, their underlying personalities don't come through strongly enough to distinguish them from one another or give me much reason to care.
Even more disappointingly, Blackout and All Clear simply feel tedious. They could have stood to lose about a hundred or so pages of the viewpoint characters' endless internal monologues, in which they run over every possible scenario that could happen, every single thing that could be going wrong, and every single thing they should have done differently, over and over and over. I see what Willis might have been going for: the plotting, pacing, and language of the novel mirror the endless, grinding uncertainty that people living through WWII England must have experienced. Unfortunately, it doesn't make for the best reading experience.
I've read several of Willis's novels and loved each one. I've never skimmed through them, grimly slogging through to get to the end, as I did with these. It's sad to find myself treating these books the same way I would some pulpy airport thriller. I did want to get to the end, I did want to find out what happens and why the events in the books played out as they did, but the journey to get there just wasn't as enjoyable or as engrossing as it should have been.
Most recent customer reviews
More WWII history, and just the right sci-fi twists, great characters.