Connie Willis is the author of various novels and stories based on time travels that are used by historical faculties to have a detailed first person knowledge of historical periods. The travel works in such a way that it does not allow the change of key events, so the arrival time-space point could be different from the computed one.
The novels can rise ambivalent opinions: time travels are usually linked to science fiction themes, here sci-fi is only the expedient to begin, the novels are historical.
The settings are to me very good: way of living and locations are depicted accurately and with care; the plots are engaging (however I may second the people who think the books have a feuilleton tendency), so I suggest to read the novels.
In the following my opinions about four novels:
- To say nothing of the dog
- Doomsday book
- All Clear
To say nothing of the dog
It’s kind of science fiction book but also a funny prise to “Three men on a boat”.
The sci-fi part consists in the background setting with time travels and all the anachronisms that can derives from them, but for the most part the plot happens in the Victorian age.
There are boats going back up the Thames, dogs (and lot of cats), nerve-racking mothers, unconcerned fathers, spoiled daughters and perfect butlers, everything saw and told – with irony – by the protagonist time traveller.
The book is also a riddle in which different mysteries overlaps, first of all the search of the awful “bishop’s bird stump”; I guessed some solutions before the ending but I nevertheless enjoyed the reading.
Kivrin wants to live in medieval times and her wish is allowed: from the beginning of the travel to year 1320 the narration follows to stories: on one hand Kivrin, who, ill, is helped and welcomed in a medieval village and on the other hand the future Oxford where an epidemic flu virus brings the city to the quarantine.
The former part of the novel is “light”, Kivrin is confused (she does not remember her arrival point) but she is optimistic in finding it; Oxford faces the beginning of the flu epidemic but everything is still under control, only Mr. Dunworthy fears for Kivrin in the past. The characters are someway funny with their obsessions: Finch fears the deficiency of provisions, Montoya wants to work on her archeological site, William has numerous girlfriends and an irritating mother.
The latter part is instead more tense with Mr. Dunworthy wanting to recover Kivrin.
The chapters set in the past are very well written both for setting description both for the ability to engage the reader (mainly in the ending).
The ones set in the future are more naive (there are no cell phones), but they do not compromise the whole book: in a city under quarantine – with or without phones – the lines could be congested; moreover it’s obvious that the director of the history faculty is not reachable when he’s out fishing.
Blackout / All Clear
Blackout, or the mysteries of publishing: Blackout and All Clear are not a series but a single book literally cut just before its half; consequently in Blackout the plot begins and in All Clear there is solution and epilogue.
The books are built, as usual for this author, on time travels. This time the historians are sent to 1940 to face London Blitz, reactions from evacuates and Durkik survivals and of course everything get complicated.
The strong points of this former part (and probably also of the latter one) there is the historical reconstruction; as usual the life of common people is told with lots of details.
I appreciated the idea to begin each chapter with a quote from slogans / speech from that time.
Blackout is not perfect however: the start is quite chaotic (jumps delayed frequently, confusion in dress assignment, a background mess) and it’s followed by a very long (and very summarize-able) one about the life of the three historical during WWII
From this part some certainties emerge:
– children can be extremely annoying
– unforeseen difficulties may emerge
The novel contains, more than the others, hints from previous books (mainly Doomsday Book), that can be appreciated only by a fond reader, so I ask myself why to cut off Mr. Finch and replace him with a rigid secretary?
Second part of the book Blackout/All Clear.
The former volume was useful to introduce characters and time lines (quite verbose) but it did not contain any particular revelation or plot evolution; this second part put together everything that seemed senseless bringing finally clarity.
Once ended the complex plot is understandable with all the jumps, the references and the cycles where the characters are unconscious protagonists.
All the mysteries are solved such as in an Agatha Christie’s novel, all the hints are available but it’s hard to put them together without help.
The historical reconstruction is also here very well done and covers different place and events (London during the blitz, the Ultra project, operation Fortitude, V1 and V2 attacks …); it is a novel about people, too, not the generals or the great leaders (who are remembered also by their famous quotes) but on common people: the London refugees, the fire-fighters responsible of the cathedral, the ambulance drivers etc.., so all the people who contributed in writing England history during the war.
It’s a beautiful novel, unfortunately it is slowed down by the former part where the reader can lose himself inside the different time lines.
* To say nothing of the dog by Connie Willis ★★★★★
* Doomsday Book by Connie Willis ★★★★☆
* Blackout by Connie Willis ★★★☆☆
* All Clear by Connie Willis ★★★★☆
*I read this book in English