So, let me tell you what I think about Connie Willis’s latest novel. Get comfortable, adjust your monitor’s brightness to its optimal setting, maybe get some snacks, because I have a LOT to say. You’re going to want to read every word of this post, and then re-read carefully from the beginning just in case you missed something. Are you ready? OK, the thing about Connie Willis’s new novel is … …THE REST OF THIS BLOG POST TO BE RELEASED IN FALL 2010.
Connie Willis is a perennial favorite here on Blogging for a Good Book. As fans of Willis’s hapless time-travelling historians (stranded in the plague! trapped in a Victorian manor filled with bric-a-brac!), we eagerly awaited her take on the London Blitz, but I’m sorry to report that Blackout is only the first half of a novel, the second half of which will not be published until October. Consider yourself warned.
Connie Willis’s time travelers are overworked, under-prepared Oxford historians who travel to the past as observers, using location-specific drops that open and close at pre-determined intervals, like temperamental elevators to the past. You aren’t supposed to be able to change capital-H History. If you can mess up the timeline by being there, the net (Oxford’s time-traveling device) won’t open. Willis’s characters are always pretty harried, but the chaos level is even higher than usual at the start of Blackout, with a cascade of last-minute schedule changes sending some folks into World War II-era England without much more prep than some hastily-downloaded files of which addresses are going to be bombed each night.
Short chapters jump between various historians. Eileen is observing children evacuated to a rural manor house. Polly is a London shopgirl overnighting in bomb shelters during the Blitz. Michael intended to observe Dunkirk from a safe distance, and instead he’s getting shot at while likely to drown in a leaky small craft loaded down with escaping soldiers. And what do you know, it’s mid-1940 and none of the three can get their drops to open, no one’s showing up to retrieve them, and Mike has a terrible, sinking feeling that he may accidentally have broken World War II.
If all of this sounds intriguing, sit on your hands until the second book, All Clear, is released in October. The number of characters juggled in Blackout means that it takes a while for the story to get up its momentum, and once it does, you won’t want the story to come to a crashing halt like it did to me. Not that I’m bitter.
Meanwhile, read Willis’s short story “Fire Watch,” in the collection The Winds of Marble Arch. You’ll get all of the emotions and themes that Willis is playing with in this half-a-novel, but concentrated. History! Pathos! Loss! And an ending!
Check the WRL catalog for The Winds of Marble Arch.
Then, around September or so, check the catalog for Blackout.