Fast Forward Book Review for April 2010
by Connie Willis
New York : Ballantine Books, 2010
by Colleen R. Cahill
The thing about a Connie Willis book is that even if the topic is depressing, such as the Black Death in The Doomsday Book, her writing pulls me in and keeps me reading. This is true for her latest release, Blackout, from Ballantine Books, which focuses on England in World War II. Three time traveling historians find themselves getting more than they bargained for in experiencing the frustrations and dangers of the home front, but they also see the day-to-day heroism of the souls who lived through it.
The book opens in Oxford, 2060, and the chaos that is the time travel center, which is not a lot of help to the three researchers preparing for their World War II experience. Merope Ward needs to remember she is now Eileen O#39;Reilly, maid at a manor where children have been evacuated from London. Eileen gets an eye full of overbearing employers, less than useful co-workers and a pair of children who are such hellions that had they been shipped to Germany, the war would have been shorter. In many ways, though, Eileen has it easy compared to Polly Churchill, who takes the last name Sebastian and is living in London during the Blitz with an eye to how the locals are dealing with nightly raids, crowded shelters and lost lives. Things are even worse for Michael Davies, who is supposed to be an American reporter talking to the troops being evacuated to England during the Battle of Dunkirk. Due to problems of when and where he was time dropped, Mike is shanghaied and finds himself taking an active part in this military retreat. Although the Laws of History say he cannot change the time line, Mike fears that may be just what he has done.
The subject of this book is compelling enough, but Willis#39; ability to put the reader in that time brings home all the fears and dangers of living in England under siege. Having foreknowledge of events is not all that comforting, as the details of history are rarely all recorded. This traps Eileen in the manor house when it is quarantined due to measles and Polly often fears her information on what was hit during the bombing raids could be off, especially when the bombs are flying. In the heat of a situation, it is hard for the historians not to try and help, as Mike finds when he is called on to free the propeller of a boat that is under attack. Only time will tell if he has changed history, possibly causing England to lose the war.
As with her other works, Willis does not show just one side, but all the emotions of life. Even during the bombing, Polly saw people in the shelters exhibit love, greed, jealousy, courage, and even humor. One might not expect to see boredom during a bombing raid, but hours in a subway station with little to do can get tedious even if destruction is raining overhead. My only complaint is that I am going to have to wait for the second part, All Clear, to find out the conclusion, but that is a small price to pay for such an excellent story. Sure to be snapped up by Willis fans, you cannot do better than start your reading of her works with Blackout, but be aware that you are in danger of enjoying a good book.