Blackout and All Clear really constitute a single book. Blackout leaves the reader without any resolution and All Clear has no back story (and hence makes no sense) without Blackout. Ms Willis, in the introduction to All Clear, says as much. However this review is only for All Clear.
Ms Willis seems to have had the goal of telling the story of the British civilian population during World War II and especially during the Blitz and to have used the characters in the book as the vehicle for doing so. In this she has succeeded brilliantly. Although I have read many books about World War II none have really told the story of the British civilians and how they coped with the violence and devastation of the war and especially what living through the Blitz was like. I have a much better idea of what people had to go through as part of their daily lives and what just getting through the day must have been like.
The main characters, however, seem like terribly flawed individuals. They are supposed to be professional historians but act as though they are continually on the edge of panic. At every step they make the wrong choices and assume the absolute worst about what is happening around them. During the hours of listening I wanted to just tell them to "get a grip" and stop acting so stupidly. I was going to title this review "Historians acting stupidly" or "These are professionals?", but the second half of All Clear, where Ms Willis began to put the pieces of the puzzle together, was so well done that I felt the book was rescued from a 3 star rating.
The narration was very well done with many characters having such distinctive voices that I could tell who was speaking without having to be told.
I would recommend this book with the caveat that the reader might want to listen to the two parts of the book separately. Together they are 41 1/2 hours and that was just too much of these characters for me to listen to at one time. Perhaps if I had separated the two parts of the book I would have had more patience with the characters. As it was I ended up having to stop listening to All Clear about half way through and read an entirely different book before I was able to go back to All Clear and finish it. Still, having said that, I must credit Ms Willis with enough misdirection to credit Agatha Christie (who makes a cameo) appearance in this book.
I read this book in paper format more than 30 years ago, but I had forgotten how good it really is. When I saw it available in audible format I jumped at the chance to listen to a previous good read.
Some of the reviews I have read are very hard on the book, but I believe that the are looking in the wrong place. What makes this book so interesting and unique, at least to me, was the idea that humans could encounter aliens so different that all of our assumptions would be wrong. How do two species interact when one is general and adaptive in nature and the other is differiented. That is at the core of this story; at least for me.
The process of meeting, all of the mistaken assumptions and the final realization as to just how different the species are is, I believe, a very interesting story with, for new readers, an unknown conclusion.
But listeners should know that this story is from 1974 and hence some of the story line is 35 years out of date. I believe that to be the cause of some of the bad reviews. Perhaps those listeners did not know the copyright date and might have been more charitable to the male-centered character of the story.
All in all I think this is a nearly great book with more than adequate reading.
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