Thursday, August 18, 2011
book review: Blackout by Connie Willis
Even though the books I've reviewed so far seem to fit a nice, educated, non-fiction category, the truth is 99% of the time I'm reading fiction. And yes, the honor's grad in me cringes to admit it. But I love a good story, and non-fiction can tend to be... dry. One of my favorite types of book to read are historical fiction, because I feel like I'm learning something, even while indulging in a novel. Not sure how true that always is, but it makes me feel better about spending 6 hours reading (wait, did I say 6 hours? umm, I meant the minutes I scrounge between industriously cleaning and doing farm chores.)
Anyways, Blackout is historical fiction. The book's premise is a neat concept- time travel has been invented, and scholars use it to transport themselves back to the time they are interested in studying. The (many) characters in this book choose different events and locations in World War 2 England. They try to integrate themselves into daily life in order to unobtrusively study the events. Of course, things end up going wrong.... and 500 pages later the book ends up in a major cliff hanger (huge pet peeve! but don't worry, there is a book 2).
The details of life in wartime England are fascinating and absorbing. The author does a wonderful job with the time traveler idea. The characters know in theory what the "ending" will be, but they find themselves entering daily life, where people are much the same as any time period. Even though huge events are happening all around them, the characters find themselves occupied with small everyday concerns, such as a hole in new panty hose, an annoying neighbor, or having cabbage again for supper. The author does a wonderful job of bringing the time period alive in all the little details. You can tell this is a very well- researched book, but the many details do not obtrude into the story, they make the story richer.
Besides the cliff hanger ending, another thing that bothered me about this book was the multitude of characters with first- person narratives, and the fact that each chapter switched characters and narratives. While this allows the story to encompass more of what was going on in World War two England, I often found myself confused as to which character I was reading about. The author also has the annoying habit of bringing in new characters (with first person narratives) in random chapters, leaving me trying to figure out what the heck was going on and who was narrating.
However, I recommend this book, especially if you need a long book for a trip or plane ride. I don't think this is a book you can set down and then pick up a while later, because you will not be able to keep all the characters straight. It is a long book, be ready to devote some time. Don't be afraid of the time-travel bit, it's not a science-fictiony book. I felt this book gave me realistic idea as to what life was like for everyday people during wartime England, and it is fascinating.
**PS I reviewed the sequel, All Clear.