Friday, December 6, 2013

Blackout by Connie Willis

I'm struggling a bit with how to review this one. It's a story set in 2060 Oxford, where historians travel back in time to learn more about particular eras and events in history. This one focuses on England during World War II. There were things I loved about it, and things I didn't like so much. So I'll tell you what those things are, and leave it at that.

What I loved:

  • The setting. By the time I finished reading this I felt as though I'd sat through the blitz in the Underground and other basements around London. She clearly did a ton of research into life in England during the war, and it shows.
  • The way certain scenes would just take off and become so gripping and compelling that it felt as though I were experiencing them as one of the characters.

What I didn't love so much:
  • As clear as it was that Willis thoroughly researched the background of this one, there was a little too much of her research in the book, indigestible lumps of exposition that dragged down the narrative for me.
  • The characters were sort of eh. I didn't really care much about any of them - in fact, with all the point-of-view shifts I could barely keep them apart, to the point where I'd find myself several pages into a new chapter thinking I was reading about one character when, in fact, I'd been reading about another.
  • The book felt way longer than it needed to be.
  • The way the book just ended, without any real conclusion to speak of.
  • I could never figure out the point of the time-travel investigations. It seemed so purely academic and arbitrary, which took away some of the tension I think I was supposed to be feeling.
So yeah, good and bad. I'm not sorry I read it, but even though the book just ends, clearly to be continued in the sequel, I have no intention of reading any further. If you really love World War II-era stories, this one is definitely for you. If not, you might want to give it a pass and pick up something else by this wonderful author. 

Blackout by Connie Willis (Spectra Ballantine Books, 2010)

Also by Connie Willis:
Inside Job


  1. I have this book and its sequel on audio. I am hoping to get to it soon!

    1. I'll be interested to hear what you think when you get to this one. It's really long - did you know? I saw the audio book at work and it's 16 CDs!

  2. Is this a spinoff of _To Say Nothing of the Dog_?

    1. It's set in the same Oxford time-travel universe, but I read To Say Nothing of the Dog so long ago, I wasn't able to remember if any of the characters were the same. I enjoyed that one much more than this one, though.

  3. I felt much the same about Blackout, but I went ahead and read All Clear because I was hoping it would resolve some of the problems I had with Blackout. Since you're saving yourself the trouble anyway, I'll just tell you: It didn't. It had the exact same strengths and weaknesses as Blackout.

    1. I'm glad I'm not alone in this. Thanks for letting me know about the second one - I feel better about bailing now!


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