Review: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

This is the first review I’ve posted that is not of an indie or small press book. However, I love these books so much, and I feel they are so exceptional and valuable, that I really wanted to post my review of them here.

BlackoutSo, I have finally finished the 1,300-page ordeal that was Connie Willis’ Blackout / All Clear duo, and I feel a few words are in order. Actually, the best words for this experience are probably the ones spoken by Willis’ character Eileen, regarding V-E day:

“But if she’d come then, she would never have properly appreciated it. She’s have seen the happy crowds and the Union Jacks and the bonfires, but she’d have had no idea of what it meant to see the lights on after years of navigating in the dark, what it meant to look up at an approaching plane without fear, to hear church bells after years of air-raid sirens.”

And good grief, I couldn’t even copy that from the book without crying all over again. But it sums up the experience so well- this was a LONG book (split into two enormous hardcovers), and a frustrating and heartbreaking one, and you are dragged through it all by your love and fear for each and every one of the characters. Because that’s what Connie does best- she creates characters that you love, so you are willing to follow them through hell and back.

And make no mistake, that’s exactly where these books will take you- straight into the darkest parts of World War II, into the lives of three trapped time travellers trying desperately to escape, or at least to use whatever knowledge they have to try and survive air raids and rationing, V-1s and the Blitz itself. But it’s not just about them. You fall in love with the contemps, and their bravery and pain, as well. Through all of them- and did I mention this is 1,300 pages???- Willis makes the reader live through the war, too.

All ClearAnd that is what makes the phenomenal ending of these books so worthwhile. Worthwhile? No. Heartbreaking, beautiful, perfect. I sobbed almost continuously for the last 150 pages. I have cried more over this book than any other I can remember (the next closest being Passage, also by Connie Willis, which one should not read without one’s therapist on speed-dial).

So, clearly, I loved these books. But do I recommend them? Not exactly. It was necessary for me to read them. I am not the same person I was before reading them, and that’s what I always love about Connie’s writing. But recommending them seems like recommending someone have their wisdom teeth out- you’ll probably feel better afterward, but I don’t want to be responsible for the ordeal you’ll go though to get there! If you do decide to read them, I’ll be here for you with tea and tissues, reminding you to Keep Calm and Carry On.

 

Title:  Blackout/All Clear

Author:  Connie Willis

Genre:  Historical Science Fiction/Time Travel

Publication:  Spectra; Reprint edition (September 14, 2010), Spectra (October 25, 2011)

Price:  $11.99 (Kindle, Nook), $12.09 (paperback)

Author’s Website:  http://www.sftv.org/cw/

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