In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060, the setting for several of her most celebrated works, and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler's bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.
Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory, but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.
Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians' supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and 17-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own - to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.
Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It's Connie Willis' most humane, heartfelt novel yet - a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.
BONUS AUDIO: Includes an introduction written and read by author Connie Willis.
Also listen to the first book, Blackout.
©2010 Connie Willis (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"By the time the three historians and Mr. Dunworthy have unraveled the mystery and arrived at the full-on, three-hanky finale, you’ll no longer be a disinterested observer. Drawn in Willis’s skillful storytelling, you’ll be back in 1941, wondering what’s about to happen next." (The Village Voice)
"Katherine Kellgren's delightful English accent is perfect for the many characters she portrays." (AudioFile)
“As vivid an evocation of England during World War II as anyone has ever written.... You’ll find here a novelist who can plot like Agatha Christie and whose books possess a bounce and stylishness that Preston Sturges might envy.” (The Washington Post)
I've listened to a number of Connie Willis' books before and really enjoyed them. My experience with these two books was decidedly more mixed. Much was very enjoyable; however, I got sick of the interminable self-recriminations about whether one action or another had changed history. Also, one character or another would go haring off on some errand and immediately the others would wonder why he/she was late in returning despite the fact that all their experience told them that delays in travel in war disrupted England were business as usual. It also seems to me that time travelers would have standard strategies for making it easy for their retrieval teams to find them. Gawd! Don't we tell our kids to either stay put or go to some previously specified place if lost. These people would have made the task of finding them very difficult indeed.
I guess the main complaint is that the same two or three devices were used to excess. This is one book (or rather one pair of books -- they must be reviewed together as they aren't stand alone books) that lends itself to abridgement -- and I don't listen to or read abridged books! There are extremely tedious passages as they moan about whether or not they have changed history by some action forgetting, of course, that not acting can have ramifications, too.
Still Ms Willis paints a wonderful picture of war time England with only a few major historical mistakes.
This is a joint review of Blackout and All Clear. They must be considered together as one long novel, as neither one can stand alone. Basically, the books are follow the same concept as "Doomsday Book" and 'To Say Nothing of the Dog", where in 2060 time travel exists, and Oxford University sends historians back in time to observe. Here, our historians are visiting various destinations in World War II, but mostly in London during the Blitz. The length allows the author to pull you deeply into the story and the setting, You really get a sense of what it must have been like to fall asleep in the shelter or the tube station at night listening to the bombs, and then surface in the morning, stop at home if you're lucky (and if your home was still standing) and hurry off to work despite the destruction in whatever neighborhood was hit the night before. I was moved by the story, and I've been drawn into learning more about the Blitz due to this novel. The characters are not perfect. Yes, they sometimes whine, or make foolish choices, or hide things from others that they should reveal. However, they are caught up in a terrifying situation and can be forgiven their mistakes. Connie Willis' time travelling setting needs to be your cup of tea. If you don't want to hear anything about time travel, this is not for you. There is also a "comedy of errors" aspect, involving misunderstanding, mistaken identity, just missing someone at a critical moment, or being delayed at an inconvenient time. It happens a lot, and some people find this repetition annoying. I find it amusing, at least the way Willis does it. For instance, they have time travel in 2060 but no cell phones, so in Oxford there's a lot of running around trying to find people who are running around trying to find other people. You also meet a lot of characters and you don't know where they fit in. You just have to lose yourself in the setting. For most of the second book, I could not put it down. Well worth the credits.
I am a blind lawyer and aspiring writer, trying to read a little bit of everything but partial to sci-fi and military fiction.
After finishing the book, I had to look up the classification referenced in the title of the review. I won't spoil the scene from which it comes; but I think it applies to the book as well as the subject of the conversation. It is that conversation among others, towards the end of the book that leads me to rate All Clear and Blackout as 5s, regardless of their shortcomings. Given that Blackout isn't even a complete novel, this should say something to you.
I was a bit taken aback by the radiant praise heaped upon Ms. Willis's writing when I glanced over the publisher's summary while waiting for the book to download. I mean sure, I'd been enthralled enough by the characters and world of Blackout to forge on (I'd bought the book long ago and just had to download it) but seriously, "uplifting and devastating?" Well, regardless of whatever else I might have thought then, the acclaim is worth it. This book brings to life the struggles of ordinary people by contrasting them with very extraordinary observers trapped by a very different sort of peril than the blitz. The author also uses time travel as a means to depict the depth of love represented by truly selfless sacrifice in entirely amazing ways. It is one thing to give one's life in a spontaneous act, quite another to devote what might very well be the rest of your life engaged in mundane tasks seeking the rescue of a friend you might, and probably will, never see again. At the same time, along with the time travelers, the reader meets any number of people "doing their bit," by putting out fires, decoding German messages, driving ambulances, putting on silly shows, and raising other people's children. Many characters embody a spirit that is often ridiculed or exploited, and through the magic of Ms. Willis's words, bring out its power and beauty.
There are a great many scenes in which characters deliberate, perhaps overly much, on the unique pitfalls of their situation, but I think it's generally relevant to the story, despite its repetitiveness. I also think it unfair to the characters to dwell overly much on how often they worry about delayed arrivals, given the very uncertain dangers and the singular nature of the people involved, the only person who knows who you really are is going out into a city regularly beset by aerial bombardment on top of every conceivable "normal" hazard of urban life; I actually worried every time the characters separated.
I've come to think of the degree to which I miss the characters of a story as a measure of just how much I enjoyed it; I think I'll be carrying around memories of Polly and Merope's triumphs and tragedies with me for quite a long while.
I enjoyed hearing how things work out for our heroes and found the ending satisfying. And as with Blackout, the details of wartime London and environs make for interesting listening.
However, this book is easily 25% longer than it needs to be. The early and middle parts are filled with loooong passages in which our heroes agonize over the things they are keeping from one another. After a while, this made me nuts and I wanted to scream at them to stop lying or at least stop ruminating on these lies and just move on already.
Blackout and All Clear.
I liked these books, but don't start the first one unless you are prepared to listen to the second. I would listen to these books again sometime which is my primary standard for any written or audbile book. I go back to the stories I like to walk around in the world the author created. Willis created characters that I liked, that I cared about and that, overall, acted believably.
All that said, I think that these books could have benefited from better editing. Willis, at times, becomes very tedious describing the characters' angst over changing time or each others' welfare. In the second, all clear, there are stream of consciousness sections of characters who have suffered traumatic injuries and who can't keeep events and times separated. Although generally well done, these started to get so tedious that I wanted to slap some sense into the character. However, since I wanted to slap the character instead of the author, I guess Willis did a good job suspending disbelief.
The narration is superb.
I listened to Black Out and All Clear back-to-back and found All Clear to be so confusing that I spent 95% of the book going, "huuuh?" It is excessively detailed and very convoluted. It was, however, perfectly put together in the end, but wading through 2 lengthy books to figure out what the H was going on was a bit much. Connie Willis, is a brilliant writer/researcher though and I have loved her writing style despite the confusion.
I have to save my sensitive eyes for thesis-writing, so audiobooks are how I keep up with my favourite authors and have fun.
The sequel to "Blackout," and just as good as the first book, if not better. Willis is a master story-teller.
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.
As a long time Willis fan, I want to give this story a higher rating but I can't. There are several things I find problematic about the story itself, pace being one of them. It does go on far too long, although often in enjoyable ways. It's a fun read but not her best.
However, I can't fault the narrator. As always, Kellgren does an excellent job.
Connie Willi is one of my favourite authors and I think this would have to be her best work. Her writing is so evocative and her research so thorough, that listening to these two books almost felt like time travel. I waited until both parts were available and listened to them as one big book, which they actually are. So, the biggest problem was finding the time to listen to it because once I had started listening, it was difficult to stop. About half way through, I was feeling slightly annoyed by all the false leads in the plot but I loved the writing so much that it was easy to overlook the winding plot and just enjoy the descriptive writing. The plot was pulled together so beautifully in the end, that I forgave any tendencies to ramble. The narration was very good, although Ms Kellgren did tend to make most of her female "contemp" characters sound like Mrs Slocomb from the British TV show, Are You Being Served.
So, two very minor points in an otherwise fabulous listening experience.
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