By the way, I'd suggest there are far worse ways to spend your weekend than cuddled up with Connie Willis's spectacular new novel Blackout. Man, oh, man, did I adore this book. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger, and I can't wait for All Clear to come out this fall, but the entire thing is so perfect that I don't see how you can possibly wait to go ahead and read this one now. Available at fine booksellers from Spectra as of earlier this week, or score one of the limited editions from the ever-fabulous Subterranean Press.
It has nail-biting tension, just the right touch of humor, excellent and memorable characters, pitch-perfect writing and just about everything else you could want in a novel. One of the things I love best about it is that it feels like a World War II story I haven't seen a million times already, like Willis is showing us the war from the fringes of the actual battlefields, or rather Britain as a battlefield everyday people inhabited–exploring what it was like for shopgirls and actors who weren't performing for long stretches (Sir Godfrey is my favorite! Well, except for Alf and Binnie!), British intelligence agents doing semi-goofy things, and for women driving ambulances or military leaders from place to place. There are more women featuring in principle roles in this novel, actually, than in any other novel set during the great wars that I can remember. Plus, this is time travel! And like Tansy, I simply can't wait to see where the second installment takes us.
There are so many things I loved about it that I'd rather just discuss it after others have read it. So drop in after you do and leave a comment, why don't you?
p.s. You'll note I've eschewed Amazon links, even though there are still some elsewhere on my site. I don't know what to do about that, because I'm a code klutz and typepad automatically directs to them. I will assure you any money I get from Amazon affilitiates is spent on cat food and Lush products, and never on books, though. And that as soon as there's an alternative I can manage, I will be. In the meantime, why not drop by your local bookshop and pick it up?
12 thoughts on “Blitz Tourism”
Connie is reading here on Sunday, so I’ll be picking it up then. The parts I’ve heard her read on previous trips to Seattle definitely made this a must buy.
I really enjoyed Blackout but think it really suffered from not having it marked in some way that it’s only half the novel. I got 100,75,50 pages from the end and realized the pace was off and flipped ahead and found the To Be Continued. I knew there were two books but I thought they were two novels. Hopefully other readers will read about the split first and not be unhappy.
I actually didn’t know about the split ahead of time, but for some reason wasn’t bothered by it? I saw that she mentioned two novels in the acks, and then about halfway through (like you), I googled and found out about All Clear, which perhaps played a factor. I’m probably in the minority, but I’m almost glad it’s split–there’s just something about the continued structural cliffhangers throughout that makes it feel _right_ we’re trapped in a story we can’t finish yet. That probably doesn’t even quite make sense, and maybe I’m just lazy and would rather have a break before my next 600 pages, but it feels oddly appropriate to me. Also, that there are developments at the end of chapters that are in fact more of a gripping moment to leave off than where we do somehow felt oddly appropriate to me. But I’m clearly a WEIRD reader.
All that said (SPOILER) I would have been really unsatisfied had the three main characters not hooked up with each other by the end of this book.
Oh I am so excited about this book! So glad to hear that is a good one.
I bought it yesterday on you recommendation (and on the dread Amazon iphone kindle, sorry sorry, it’s not available in the shops here in NL yet, impatient, etc.), and love it already, though I get very nervous from all the to-in and fro-ing in Oxford 2060. And Alf & Binnie FTW! Will check in again once I’m further along.
For another non-typical look at wartime England, I recommend the TV series Foyle’s War, about a civilian police detective during the war. Some very good writing, and chock full of information about the war’s impact on regular folk. For example, I never knew that they took down all the street signs so that, when the Nazis invaded, they wouldn’t be find their way around.
Blackout is definitely Blitz Tourism – it seems to be more of a loving portrayal of a time period in the mode of To Say Nothing of the Dog, but quick to point out the bleak realities, as in the Doomsday Book. Perhaps I’m wrong to think it needs to fall into one camp or the other.
Though SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I never doubted for a moment that Willis was perfectly capable of blowing up that damned church and killing everyone inside. I read a brilliant interview with her in Locus a few months back where she said – and I thought she meant the fate of the future but maybe she was referring to this massive fake-out – that she had planned to go a darker route with this book but then stepped back, because in literature, unlike life, we get to let people live.
I suspect that Blackout and All Clear are going to be like to Say Nothing of the Dog in that they will be good books to use to introduce nonspec fic readers to the genre.
The thing that bugs me most about Blackout though is that for historians (especially historians whose job is finding out the stuff that history doesn’t tell us) there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough questioning of their sources. Too often, even when we are explicitly told that the information they have of the time period is limited in many ways, moments of tension are constructed from a premise that the history they know is perfect.
I love Mike’s paranoia that he has changed history, but surely the possibility that the books they got info from might have had TYPOS has to be considered…
On the other hand Connie is masterful at creating tension out of the most mundane details, like Polly’s damned black skirt.
What criticisms I have of the book are very mild. Every page is enjoyable, and the characters all so appealling. More please!
This sounds cool, but I’ll probably wait until the second book comes out to pick it up.
I love Foyle’s War. The mysteries are very good but the setting is what always keeps my attention.
Willis uses the street sign stuff in Blackout too, and I wasn’t even familiar with the blackout itself–which meant no lights visible from the outside at all. But then I am dreadfully unversed on the particulars of World War II beyond the things everyone knows.
A SPOILERY RESPONSE
Ooh, that’s really interesting–I must admit I was both surprised and delighted that they weren’t dead. And also that Marjorie survived. I do think you make an interesting point about this book having the ability to go either way tonally, and I am SO CURIOUS to see if it maintains the strange equilibrium of Blackout or if All Clear heads more into one camp than the other. I really love it when an author can pull off both light and heavy at the same time, and you so rarely see it, that I’m kind of hoping she somehow makes it a total tour de force without choosing one or the other.
The ways they constantly circle back around the historical “facts” and the knowledge there was misinformation is interesting, and I admit I wasn’t always sure what to make of that either. I wonder if there’s a point being made that they can’t actually stay apart and that their knowledge only keeps them at a minor remove, and isn’t nearly enough to keep them from getting sucked into the historical moment because they are human. There are all these moments where they take little actions that do change things, and then rationalize them, because they can’t not and be human — Binnie’s aspirin, Mary throwing herself over her friend in the street, and bigger, of course, Mike at Dunkirk. And of course there’s the beautiful symmetry that they all BECOME what they’re studying in a meaningful way. And, really, as Polly admits to herself toward the end, they’re all in such serious denial. But I completely believed that they weren’t able to recognize what was happening with the drops.
Oh, happy book.
Comments are closed.