Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Reading Now: Blackout

Oh, Connie Willis. Only you could make me laugh by referring to a much-maligned dance dress as "The Yellow Peril."  (The dress is passed from wearer to wearer by WWII female ambulance drivers who still scramble to look fetching despite no new frocks for the duration. They also have an ambulance dubbed Bela Lugosi.)

Blackout is stuffed---and I do mean that---with fascinating details of England during WWII. The book is huge, following the exploits of multiple historians as they time-travel back into the past, witnessing and ultimately getting sucked inside the chaos of The Blitz and the stolid British response to it; the desperately improvised civilian small boat rescue of stranded soldiers from Dunkirk to Dover; the air raid shelters peopled by both knitting biddies and Shakespearean actors; the rampages of measles-infected, parentless, prank-playing young evacuees; the frantic deployment of fake rubber tank units which must be blown up by hand in the middle of foggy fields with snorting bulls in them; and the endless terror of whistling V-1 rocket attacks, incendiary bombs, and the looming pall of threatened German invasion.

Does that sound confusing? It is. Does it sound fascinating? It is. Connie Willis is a master at making you realize that life is made up of unpredictable moments, all of which add up, person by person, to the sweep of history as we know it. Time travel seems ordinary by comparison.

P.S. Just to let you know, I normally avoid novels that are really the first half of a VLB (Very Long Book.) Nothing makes me madder than realizing 4/5 of the way into a terrific story that it can't possibly end in time and sure enough.... %^&*! ...on the last page are the dreaded words "to be continued." Especially if the "continued" is for longer than, say, two weeks. People, I don't care how great your story is, my brain cannot hold details that long. Publishers Weekly refers to readers such as myself as "allergic to cliffhangers."

Thankfully, Connie Willis and her publishers admitted at the outset that this was indeed a single VLB split in two. And they set the release dates of the two halves close together. Thus, I deliberately held off reading Blackout until this month because the second half, All Clear, is due out next month. (Essentially, I compressed time and travelled right through the intervening days of hanging off the cliff. Clever, right?)

For more, here's the review of Blackout in the Washington Post from March.


  1. Smart!!! I, too, had heard that the first Willis book was a sequel, and I was like, "Nope, nope, nope..." With the way she writes, cliffhangers are a fact of life, and I knew I didn't want to go there! I admit that I am a wuss and have refused to start series sometimes unless there's a minimum of five books!

    I'm so glad you're loving this one.

  2. Thanks for this review-- I am allergic to cliffhangers, too, and am glad to know that the VLB's sequel will not be too long in its arrival. I believe Lirael and Abhorsen together was a VLB.

  3. Sounds like a must read! I will have to share it with my son, who loves WWII-related stuff. Thanks for the tip about the second book.


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