Unfortunately, due to April being completely out of control I only got to read The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and even that I finished a week late (hopefully when I head over to the discussion post after writing this there will still be some discussion happening). This was not helped by my e-reader freezing in the middle of the novel.
I’ve already read one of Willis’ other books set in the same universe: To Say Nothing Of The Dog. Both it and The Doomsday Book have the same basic plot mechanism of someone trapped in the past after an academic ‘fieldtrip’ has gone wrong. The Doomsday Book is a much stronger novel, in my opinion both thematically and in prose. It features a young female student trapped in the medieval period with all its diseases and no support crew while an infection and incompetence prevent the people in the ‘present’ from being able to locate or save her. The ending was rather unexpected, if only in the sense that I really didn’t expect anyone to have survived.
The draw in the stories isn’t really the plot; you can guess a lot of what happens in the novels beforehand. The world Willis has created isn’t really a draw either for me: a place where time travel is used exclusively for academia and is oddly lacking in mobile phones (I suspect this one of the main aspects that has dated the book) and incredibly Eurocentric isn’t really my thing.
However, Willis’ writing style and slightly off-kilter narration to the story is amazing, as is her ability to make entertaining the attention to the mind-numbing detail and bureaucracy that is constantly shuffling along in front of the main characters as they try to take action and prevent disaster from unfolding. Analysis of language and style isn’t really my strong point in literary criticism, but I can recognise that the way Willis held my attention. I was unable to put the bloody book down, to the point where I nearly cried when my Kobo froze. She also manages to contrast a relentless refusal to de-brutalise the medieval age with absurd imagery of malfunctioning academia and the behaviour of young children (such as Colin’s endless gobstopper).
I didn’t cry during reading this book though! According to some reports I’ve heard, this makes me a terrible person, but really, Willis’ no-nonsense approach and refreshing lack of melodrama, despite featuring a main character that in a lesser novel would have spent her entire time angsting and getting the menfolk to help her, left me in kind of shocked awe where I couldn’t cry, just kept struggling on with the book.
An excellent novel that I would definitely recommend, it deals with horrific events in both the past and (possible) future and while it takes pains not to soften the terrible tragedy, its attention to detail, emotion and struggle gives it a real human warmth. An impressive mixture of an incredibly readable style and traumatic content. So yeah, if you haven’t already Connie Willis is an author well worth seeking out.