Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I've stayed up far too late reading

I just finished reading Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis. They are sort of hard to classify as to what kind of books they are. The library classes them as science fiction since time travel plays a part in the plot, but they are also really excellent historical fiction. Hang in there with me if you heard science fiction and are ready to move on. I'll explain. The conceit of both books is that the year is 2060 and time travel has been invented (discovered?). The way time travel works is that anyone travelling back in time can do nothing to change history and the mechanism for time travel will not allow anyone through if there is a chance they could affect history. Thus, historians are the only ones who use the technology so that they can travel to a certain period, blend in with the people and observe history first hand.

In this pair of books, the Blitz in London is the main focus of the historians' study. I found the best part of the book to be the descriptions of what life was like in London during the Blitz. I realize it was an event that I had a vague idea about, but didn't realize the extent of what it was really like. What an astounding and devastating time of history. I also didn't realize that there were V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks over England after the Blitz had ended. What I realized is I didn't know a whole lot about England during WWII... well, other than I knew it was hard, bombs were dropped, people died, and rations were short. These books really filled in some blanks in a very engaging way.

A few notes about reading the books themselves. A friend of mine recommended them to me and told me to be sure that I had the second one in hand before finishing the first. The first book ended rather abruptly and you would really want the second book to keep reading. I thought she was exaggerating a bit, but, wow. No she wasn't. The first book ends as if she had finished a chapter, decided to make one book into two, and began the next chapter as the next book. Nothing tied up in the first and nothing explained in the second. I'm glad I had some warning.

The second thing I need to warn you about is to give them some time if you are going to read them. It took me a long time to finally begin to sort out who everyone was, what time period they were in, how each story was related, and where everything was going. This feeling of being a little off balance lasted for quite a while, but I'm glad I kept at it. Because of these issues, I would consider it a challenging read. It takes a bit of patience to get where you need to be to really understand what's happening. Also, somewhere in the second book, I very nearly gave up on them. The same things seemed to be happening over and over and no progress was being made in the story. I even set it aside a couple of nights while a read a couple of mysteries. Well, it turns out that I set the book aside, right before the chapter when all the loose ends begin to get tied together. The rest of the book was fantastic.

I recommend these books to you, but be a little patient with them as you read. They are definitely worth it. And, you'll never hear the word Blitz in quite the same light again.

If you want to try out the author with a lighter, easier read. She uses the same world in her comedy, To Say Nothing of the Dog. I might actually start with this one if you are new to the author.

Happy Reading!

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