Monday, 30 March 2015

All Clear by Connie Willis

It was perhaps a mistake to wait for so long between Blackout and All Clear. I almost always leave gaps between reading books by the same authors, and it was no different in this case. I knew that this was pretty much one book divided into two parts, but still, I followed the same pattern. This ended up making the start of All Clear more difficult than it might otherwise have been, as the characters and plot were not fresh and recent in my memory.

And the book makes no allowances for that - it's clearly expected you're going to go straight from one into the other. So for the first few chapters, it took me a while to get my feet about who these people were again, and why they were doing what they were doing, exactly.

That meant that the book and I got off on the wrong foot, and it wasn't helped by long swathes of the book in which people just seem to be there to be as irritating and obstructive to the plot as possible, not telling each other information that they and we clearly need to know. At times, it dragged.

This was frustrating, because at other times it was really good, and really clear, and the emotional drive was strong, and things were happening. It's uneven, but there are parts that are as good as anything Willis has ever written.  So I can't say that about the book as a whole is a disappointment.

While I've raved in the past about the way she makes the past feel real (whether or not it would pass muster with a historian), about how she personalizes large traumatic events with characters you genuinely care about, there are some issues with it. To be precise, it's starting to feel like she's gone to the same well too often, and since I know that's something she does on occasion, I'm wary. (Read Lincoln's Dreams and Passage and tell me that the core idea isn't something she's rewriting.)

In this case, though, with the exception of the rapscallion Hodbins, the people in the traumatic event (in this case, the Blitz) that we care about, that are in danger, are the historians themselves. Their drops aren't opening, and they become increasingly sure that they're damaging the timeline by their mere presence, which they think is causing their exile in a very dangerous past.

(It's more complicated than that, thankfully.) It's an excuse to give us a tour of parts of the Blitz and England during the Second World War that would have been too dangerous for these time traveling historians to visit under any other circumstances. It also brings home the fragility of the victory.

But oh, Eileen kept irritating the hell out of me. And the way Polly kept keeping stuff from Eileen so as not to upset her. Sometimes I liked these characters, but often, I wanted to shake them. Hard.

So, in the end, I think this is a solid Connie Willis book, but not one of her best. There are wonderful moments, but also ones that are just plain draggy.

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