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Passage Mass Market Paperback – January 2, 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 291 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most of us would rather not spend a lot of time contemplating death, but the characters in Connie Willis's novel Passage make a living at it. Joanna Lander is a medical researcher specializing in Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and how the brain constructs them. Her partner in this endeavor is Richard Wright, a single-minded scientist who induces NDEs in healthy people by injecting a compound that tricks the brain into thinking it's dying. Joanna and Richard team up and try to find test subjects whose ability to report their experiences objectively hasn't been wrecked by reading the books of pop-psychologist and hospital gadabout Maurice Mandrake. Mandrake has gained fame and fortune by convincing people that they can expect light, warmth, and welcoming loved ones once they die. Joanna and Richard try to quantify NDEs in more scientific terms, a frustrating exercise to say the least.

The brain cells started to die within moments of death. By the end of four to six minutes the damage was irreversible, and people brought back from death after that didn't talk about tunnels and life reviews. They didn't talk at all.... But if the dying were facing annihilation, why didn't they say, "It's over!" or, "I'm shutting down"?... Why did they say, "It's beautiful over there," and, "I'm coming, Mother!"

When Joanna decides to become a test subject and see an NDE firsthand, she discovers that death is both more and less than she expected. Telling anything at all about her experience would be spoiling the book's suspenseful buildup, but readers are in for some shocks as Willis reveals the secrets and mysteries of the afterlife. Unfortunately, several running gags--the maze-like complexity of the hospital, Mandrake's oily sales pitch, and a tiresomely talkative World War II veteran--go on a little too long and threaten the pace of the story near the middle. But don't stop reading! We expect a lot from Connie Willis because she's so good, and Passage's payoff is incredible--the ending will leave you breathless, and more than a little haunted. Passage masterfully blends tragedy, humor, and fear in an unforgettable meditation on humanity and death. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a departure from her usual historical theme, Willis (Miracle and Other Christmas Stories) pries open the door at the end of the tunnel of Near Death Experience (NDE) while holding firmly to her endearing brand of exasperated humor. Dr. Joanna Lander, a psychologist separating the truth from the expected in NDEs, is talked into working with Dr. Richard Wright (pun intended), a neurologist testing his theory that NDEs are a survival mechanism by simulating them with psychoactive drugs. When navigating the maze of the hospital in which the cafeteria is never open, dodging Mr. Mandrake who writes popular books on NDEs and fabricates most of his accounts and finding uncorrupted participants for their experiments becomes too difficult, Joanna herself goes under. What she finds on the Other Side almost drives her and Richard apart, while solving the mystery of what it means almost drives her mad. Joanna holds nothing back as she searches her mind and her experience; readers will be able to puzzle out the answers just as she does. That this work is less tightly packed than most of Willis's novels somewhat undercuts the tension. Even so, the plot twists, the casual wit and the enjoyable characters will satisfy fans. The shocking occurrence 100 pages from the end is a good indication of Willis's power as a writer.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (January 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553580515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553580518
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.3 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (291 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #765,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patrick Shepherd on November 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Connie Willis has established a fine reputation within the science fiction field for her satires, her mixtures of finely-detailed, fully researched history and the speculative, and her treatment of emotionally charged thematic material. This book is not only no exception, it should enhance her reputation even more.

The basic scientific point of departure here is the 'near death experience' (NDE), the 'light at the end of the tunnel' that many people have related in one form or another after close brushes with death. Joanna Lander is investigating the phenomenon from the psychological point of view and Richard Wright from the bio-chemical aspect. Dr. Wright has discovered a chemical that allows the apparent simulation of an NDE, and teams with Joanna as an expert interviewer for his test subjects. Due to a lack of suitable test subjects, Joanna eventually decides to try it herself, starting down a long road that leads by Pompeii, the Hindenberg disaster, the Great Molasses Flood, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and for a large portion of the book, the Titanic.

Willis' main characters are exceptionally vivid. Most of the book is told from Joanna's point of view, and it is very hard not to get drawn in to her slow spiral to near-obsession with NDE's and the Titanic. Maize, a young girl with a major heart problem, will endear herself to you within two pages, possibly because of her unflinching, almost gleeful interest in the most horrible disasters of all time. Within the secondary characters we find all the usual Willis trademark intentional caricatures, from the snake-oil self-aggrandizing Mr. Mandrake, to the super-gullible matron of Mrs. Davenport, to the over-protective mother of Maize, to the over-talkative not-totally-truthful WWII veteran Mr. Wojakowski.
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Format: Hardcover
I promise to try to review this without going to plot details that might ruin it.
I am an admitted fan of Connie Willis, and looked forward to reading Passage. I had only read the first chapter prior to buying it, and while I was a bit hesitant at the concept of NDEs, I thought, "Hey, its Connie Willis!" and plunked down my credit card to buy it. Took it home, and started reading.
Here's my two cents:
The bad: Yes, there does seem to be a lot of "ducking down hallways". Yes, it is busy and does get tedious at parts. Yes, it does involve the Titantic. Yes, someone ought to buy Connie Willis a thesaurus for the word 'confabulation'. And yes, there are some stereotypes in here.
But the good outweighs it. I genuinely cared for Joanna, Richard, Vielle and Maisie. The emotional attachment I develop for the characters is one of those factors in what I think a good book is.
Willis also manages to poke fun at so much in the genre, that a few times I had to just pause and laugh myself silly. (The quips about Celine Dion and 'Flatliners' really got to me.) To me, humor is a vital book element in dealing with a serious subject.
Characterization is classic Willis. With a few simple words, she can almost sum up a whole person. Even the character stereotypes that Willis has included are not your standard cliches. (Mandrake comes to my mind first.) She manages to make them seem fresh and interesting. Also, there are no real "bad" guys in Passage. I find that refreshing as opposed to the classic megalomanical or serial murderer plot threads that seem to permeate science fiction these days.
The story itself is well thought, and layered with meaning. As other people have pointed out in their reviews, this is definitely a thinking novel.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Despite the length of this and some of her other works, Connie Willis proves herself, in Passage, to be a writer for whom less is truly more. The plot of this book is relatively simple: Joanna Lander, a psychiatrist who researches Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) at the tortuous Mercy General Hospital, teams up with a young and brilliant neurologist named Richard Wright who has taken NDE research to the next level by administering drugs that simulate the near-death state. Together, they hope to uncover an explanation for why the mind sees strange visions for the several minutes before brain-death occurs, in order to better be able to revive patients. When most of the research volunteers turn out to be crackpots and lunatics, Joanna begins undergoing the tests herself in order to further the project. The rest of the book deals with what she sees during the sessions and the seemingly fruitless search for an explanation.

Willis fills this simple plot arc with a series of deliberately caricatured minor characters such as the credulous Mr. Mandrake, publisher of works with names like "Messages from the Other Side," who goes about the hospital trying to make sure patients' NDEs match up with his pre-conceived notions of the afterlife. Even the more sympathetic minor characters, like young Maisie Nellis, a girl with a severe heart condition, tell stories that are largely repetetive. It is almost possible to predict exactly what each character will say to another by halfway through the book. All this, I'm convinced, is intentional: through the use of repetition, garrulous and unvaried minor characters, and by harping on themes like the confusing tortuousness of the hospital and Dr. Wright's continual reading of brain scans, Willis builds the tension and cluastrophobia to the breaking point.
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