Connie Willis hasn’t written much during the past decade, but what she has produced has been extraordinary. Her previous book, Passage, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards: honors she has won more than once. Her current offering, Blackout, displays her usual attention to detail with a tale of time travelers in WWII-era London.
Oxford University’s time traveling historians are in an uproar: Many assignments have been changed on short notice, with no explanation. Many of the alterations have to do with London, during the time of the Blitz.
Historians Polly, Michael and Merope travel back to this dangerous time. Michael is sent to Dover, but ends up in the evacuation of Dunkirk; Polly spends many nights in underground bomb shelters; Merope deals with a measles quarantine in a country manor. They suspect that all is not right with time travel, and they soon question whether their core belief – that they can’t alter the past – is correct.
Blackout is a fascinating look at England’s history, and the heroics of its citizens. Since the narrative’s key historians know many events before they happen, their thoughts convey a wealth of information to readers. This also adds to the tension, as things begin to go wrong.
Time goes out of joint, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, and as the book progresses, that key question remains: Is history being changed?
The decision to employ three key characters allows Willis to provide a bigger picture of England’s people and their courageous actions in the face of the Blitz.
We encounter servants caring for evacuated children, nurses and doctors, volunteers in the Dunkirk evacuation, and Londoners who refuse to flee in fear from the bombs.
Willis makes us care about them all, and appreciate their strength.
The concluding book in this duology, All Clear, is (thankfully!) due out in the fall. I’d hate to wait a year to find out what happens next.
Blackout is both entertaining and educational, and well worth picking up.
Also by this author: Passage
This review originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise on March 18, 2010.
Page Count: 512
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch
Read an excerpt