And Then I Read: ALL CLEAR

© Connie Willis.

I bought the hardcover of this second half of the split novel “Blackout/All Clear,” and I can see why it was split. The second half alone is 641 pages. That begs the question, “Did it need to be so long?” I would have to say no, but I don’t regret reading any of it. Connie Willis has done a massive amount of research about England during the Second World War, especially the Blitz, when bombs and rockets fell almost daily, and she clearly wanted to share as much of what she learned as possible. The result sometimes reminded me of those scenes in the film “Titanic” when the characters had to run through the entire ship one more time as it sank so we could glory in the massive vehicle before the end. If this novel had spent less time visiting so many disasters and shelters and hospitals and bombings and cut to the meat of the story, it would have fit into one book, and perhaps been a better whole. The details are interesting, the characters have room to become well-known to us, almost as friends, and the plot does finally come to a fulfilling resolution here that I enjoyed. Yet, Willis’ plotting always seems rather frantic, full of racing here and there, in and out of danger, characters always worrying desperately about something. There are a few moments when they get to stop and catch a breath, but not many.

This is a historical work of importance, but also a science fictional time-travel story, and as such, the timelines of the characters are complex, and made harder to follow by Willis’s constant cutting not only to different places and protagonists, but to different times during the war. Several characters I thought were new historians turned out to be something else, and at the end it all made sense, but for a long time it didn’t.

I guess I’m complaining a little here, but I did enjoy this book as a whole, though I don’t think I would put it above Willis’s “The Doomsday Book,” which had a much more compelling story arc for me. Still, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject of World War Two England, and fans of Willis’s time-travelling historians will find a lot here to like, too. I expect the two books will win a lot of well-deserved awards.

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