Review: Blackout / All Clear

Blackout by Connie WillisConnie Willis, Blackout and All Clear

In the year 2060, time travel is not only possible, but it’s the preferred method of historical research. Instead of digging through old records to get a sense of a particular time period, why not just go there in person and see for yourself? Mike, Polly, and Eileen are three such historians who have all been assigned to World War II. Mike is going to Dover, where he’ll pose as a journalist and interview the heroes of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Polly will be a London shopgirl in the midst of the Blitz, and Eileen will be observing evacuees in the English countryside. Soon after they arrive at their assignments, however, things begin to go wrong. Minor discrepancies in the historical record start showing up — which ought to be impossible, because everyone knows that historians can’t affect the outcome of events. Then all three of their “drops” (the portals through which they can return to their own time) mysteriously close, leaving them stranded in World War II. As Mike, Polly, and Eileen try every possible method of reopening the drops, they’re forced to conclude that they might be trapped in the wrong time forever.

All Clear by Connie WillisAlthough Blackout and All Clear were published in two volumes, they’re really just one novel, so I’m reviewing them together. My overall feeling about this book is one of awe. This was obviously a labor of love for Connie Willis, and it is truly epic in scope. The time period is meticulously researched, and I really felt like I was there in World War II, seeing how ordinary people reacted to the war and especially to the Blitz. That said, the book is extremely long (over 1,000 pages if you count both volumes), and it probably could have been trimmed substantially. Additionally, there were several confusing plot threads that jumped between different characters and different time periods. These were all resolved by the end of the book, but it made the reading experience a bit difficult at times. On the other hand, there were so many little diversions that I loved — the allusions to Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, for example, as well as the segment where every character was named after someone in The Importance of Being Earnest. So I have mixed feelings about this novel, but overall I have a lot of respect for what Willis accomplished here. Definitely recommended for people interested in  WWII!

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