The bones of this story seemed so good: An exploration of how love may redeem grief, woven around a plot that include the Titanic disaster, spiritualism, and the social upheavals of the early 20th century. What could go wrong?
Well, for one thing, there isn't a single character who is not annoying in the extreme -- particularly the protagonist, Sybil, who has lost her mother and sister to drowning, and her almost-fiance to marriage. Sybil flutters and fidgets, whines and worries, and the author traps us with her in a paralytic mess of trivialities. Her mother and sister, drawn in flashbacks of their Titanic experience, are so shallow and screechy that you can't wait for the waters to close over their heads. And there is no apparent reason for anyone to loooove Benton, the object of Sybil's affections, who spends most of his time grabbing hunks of his thick dark hair and scowling and muttering.
But the annoyances of the characters are dwarfed by the irritation I felt with the narrator. In a voice that sounds like it belongs to a 13-year-old girl who is trying to suppress a bad case of the giggles, she coos and simpers and puts on a verbal frowny face when something bad happens. She growls the voices of the male characters and make the Irish maid sound like a leprechaun while Benton, for some reason, seems to have time-travelled back from Soviet Russia. Granted, she has some painfully stilted dialogue and a fussbudget of a plot to work with, but did she really have to deliver the entire novel as though it were a hellishly long version of Goodnight Moon?
Not that I listened to the entire novel. I tried, God how I tried. I got about a third of the way through and had to stop when I realized that the voice yelling "Shut up, you whiner!" at the speakers was mine. I not only stopped listening, I returned the selection so that I wouldn't have to see it on my devices and get annoyed all over again. I would recommend this book only as a passive-aggresive gesture toward my shallowest frienemy. Save your time and credits for a real story with at least one character you might like, narrated by a grownup.
The Doomsday Book is a gorgeous tapestry of a story, woven with fully dimensional characters and a deeply moving plot. It challenges and satisfies your mind and heart every moment of its 30-some hours. I never wanted it to end.
Part of Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel series, the Doomsday Book tells the story of Kivrin, an historian in the year 2048, by when time travel has been invented but not perfected. Kivrin travels back to the 13th century, but a wrinkle in time travel thrusts her in a position of terrible danger. Meanwhile, back (forward?) in 2048, her colleagues are facing their own dangers and plagues while trying to figure out a way to save her.
I've read other time travel books that were fascinating and inspiring, but this one stands out because just about every character is fully realized and multi-dimensional, whether they are in the 13th or the 21st centuries. Love and loss and longing live in all the characters, from a little girl who captures Kivrin's heart, to Kivrin's mentor who has to face his demons to help her. I cried hard during some parts of this book, and smiled my way through others, and I only do that because Connie Willis made me believe in the characters and care about what happens to them -- quite a feat when none of them lives in a world I recognize.
The narrator is nuanced and subtle, and draws you further into Kivrin's experiences. Her delivery is feeling and emotionally rich without being cloying, and she gives each character distinctive voices. She keeps you believing all the way through this long book.
Listen to this book even if you are not a fan of the time travel sub-genre. If you've already read Blackout and All Clear, like I had, it will clear up some sort of fuzzy backstory. But in any case, it's a winner in every aspect and one of my all-time favorite reads.
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