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Blackout: 1 Paperback – 14 September 2010
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"A tour de force . . . [Willis] is one of America's finest writers."
--The Denver Post "This compassionate and deeply imagined novel . . . gives the reader a strong you-were-there feeling."
--The Times-Picayune "[Willis has] researched Blackout so thoroughly, her readers may imagine she had access to the time machine her characters use."
--The Seattle Times "A page-turning thriller . . . Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale."
About the Author
- ASIN : 0345519833
- Publisher : Spectra Books; Reprint edition (14 September 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780345519832
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345519832
- Dimensions : 13.94 x 2.74 x 20.83 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 671,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Top reviews from Australia
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It’s well and truely worth the 5 stars I give it.
Top reviews from other countries
In 54 years as an avid bookworm, I have never read anything as bad as this, and I've given up on some real stinkers! I simply cannot understand the reviewers who describe this book as 'well-written' or 'well-researched'. I just don't understand.
1. Nothing happens. This book is set during World War 2; the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Blitz are the background to ... nothing. We have time travellers who are unfit to be let out on their own. Despite 'implants', which presumably give them everything they need, including background knowledge (one of them has an encyclopaedic knowledge of every bomb incident in the whole Blitz) they haven't a clue what they're doing. They rush around looking for their 'retrieval teams', more or less ignoring the events that brought them to 1940 in the first place.
2. The writing is diabolical and there's too much of it. I couldn't get through the whole 600-odd pages. I've too many decent books to read and re-read.
3. But the last straw, the thing that made me hurl the book at the wall is the RESEARCH. I don't understand how this writer can claim to have researched it at all. She knows the names of some obscure department stores from the 1940s. Yet she repeatedly refers to Nelson's Monument, which is in Edinburgh. What is a 'train butcher'? Why is a shopwalker described as 'Stripy Pants'? Did John Lewis's really allow staff to serve customers while dressed in their underwear? There's at least one such solecism on every page. It seems typical of the arrogance of the Yanks (sorry, but ...) that 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' had to be dumbed-down to 'HP and the Sorcerer's Stone' (grr) while no attempt has been made here to do us the courtesy of writing it in British English. Oh ... she does say she spent a day at the Imperial War Museum. One day. What a shame she didn't get a British person to proof-read this. It's utterly unacceptable. I'm angry. I won't get that £12 or those wasted hours back.
Avoid this book. If you want really enjoyable time travel, with clever, funny and likeable historians, read Jodi Taylor's St Mary's series. They're perhaps not great literature but they're not meant to be. But they are brilliantly plotted - by the way, can anyone explain why Connie Willis's plotting is favourably compared with that of Agatha Christie, of all people? - funny (very, very funny), at times heartrending, at times exquisitely written. Now I'd better go and write Jodi some rave reviews.
I found myself most frustrated with the historical inaccuracies. Why wouldn't historians have known what they were going into? The time travellers seemed to know absolutely nothing of any worth about the times they were travelling to despite all the research that would have been available to them. Then there were other things like the ludicrous way contemporary people were supposed to have spoken. I do not believe that anyone would have used the word 'wager' as much as Connie Willis in the whole of history ever. Or the blithe assumption that people living in East End slum areas would have had phones in their houses, or any one of a number of massive, glaring inaccuracies that drove me stone cold crazy. It was such a good idea. Such a pity it was so poorly executed.
If you have read Connie Willis before you will know what to expect - her gentle, educated and knowledgable take on history using a form of time-travel that, although not explained is still quite unique to her stories. Having said "gentle" don't expect her to shy away from grim reality when it's needed, it is just presented in an easy style that pulls you through it.
The research put into these two books is astonishing considering they are not academic books. There may be historical errors, as others have mentioned in these reviews, but you'd have to do some serious study to spot them. What is more, if you know little about the London Blitz or WWII's effect on the country, your eyes will be opened. You will walk with the people who lived through it, you will see them suffer, see them rejoice and understand so much more because of it.
There are reasons for the many failed attempts the time-travellers endure trying to get home to their future Oxford but you'll have to wait until All Clear to find out what they are. Suffice to say the time-travellers growing anxiety at the possibility of them altering history by their presence ramps up and by the end you will probably do as I did and dive straight into All Clear. Certainly it carries on seamlessly.
Yes, a few readers have been disappointed by the abrupt end to Blackout, which offered no conclusions, just an added mystery tacked on at the end which *did* seem a little out of place looking back (it wasn't the character I thought it was). All is forgiven though. It made sense in the actual end.
I'll conclude my review on the All Clear page, but I will say this for readers new to the story - bear with the author, she knows what she is doing and wraps it all up neatly at the end. It's a bit of an emotional roller-coaster at times but worth your time if you are interested in the period and would like to know what it was like living on the Home Front rather than out in the trenches, up in the skies or battling on the seas. Those men and women were at the cutting edge but that didn't meant staying at home was particularly easy - or safe.
Something else that needs to be made plain as well: Blackout/All Clear is one of those books which improves on a second reading. Connie Willis seems to have deliberately decided to make the reader as utterly confused as the characters - the time travellers begin as, essentially, actors playing historical roles to observe the 'contemps'; the reader isn't always told which time traveller is playing which role at which point.
Furthermore, this isn't 'our' Second World War. The major historical events may be identical, but the RAF ranks are subtly different, tube lines are in the wrong places, demolished theatres still exist and non-existent books have been written by real authors.
But by the end of the two books, the originally detached, superior historians have been drawn into the same battle as the ordinary people around them. It's a great story; one which sees history from the viewpoint of the 'little people'; hinting that great victories may often be the outcome of everyone doing 'their bit'.
I have been reading all the joint Hugo/Nebula winners and after reading Doomsday book (Another by Connie Willis) I was really looking forward to reading All Clear/Blackout. I didn't enjoy them as much as I enjoyed Doomsday book but that isn't to say I didn't enjoy them because I did. There are 5 major story lines (Three main characters that get stuck in WWII and then "present day" Oxford-2026) that you follow and you jump between all them chapter by chapter. The downside is you don't get to hear much about what is happening in oxford which I missed, considering it is clear that something is going on. That being said I did enjoy the different stories during WWII and I though it was well researched and gave you a different perspective than what you would find in a history book.
Just as a warning Black is not a book you can read on it's own as it basically laying the groundwork for All Clear and it ends rather abruptly.