I recently realized with surprise that both of my favorite novels were in the World War II genre (City of Thieves and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). I’ve been wondering if it is actually WWII that makes a story interesting to me, or whether that war just provides a fantastic backdrop for the exploration of good and evil.
I decided to keep reading in the genre. At my local book store, I found All Clear by Connie Willis, a book about WWII AND time travel! I read the first page while standing there and was hooked. When I got home, I realized that All Clear was actually the sequel to Blackout. I did what I had to do and read them in order. (They are truly one story, broken up into two books.)
I’ll tell you that that captivating first page of the second novel got me through some pretty tedious elements of first novel because I knew it must be leading up to something good.
Most broadly, the story is about some academics from the future who go back in time to observe historical events. They get stuck in the past, and worry that their belief that they couldn’t change the past might be incorrect.
A reminder to be clear with character names and POV
Overall, the story is somewhat frustrating. There are many character names- they have real names in the future, plus multiple code names in the past. The point of view switches, and sometimes the point of view is from a character we think we haven’t been introduced to, but it turns out we just never learned the character’s second code name. (I don’t like feeling “tricked” like that.)
However, sometimes I would think I was reading from one character’s perspective, and then realize it was another, and not really care, because the personalities of the characters all felt basically the same. (Contrast that with what a difference the POV of Ron and Hermione would be!)
But his isn’t really a character driven story– it’s about being immersed in the Blitz on London, in amazing detail…
And detail and detail and detail…
Speaking of historical detail, the characters also spend a huge amount of time trying to find each other– I know life was less convenient before cell phones, but these novels do not let you forget it. There are many details about the exact route of trips, frustrations, and waiting for phone calls.
In college during a short story workshop, I recall the professor critiquing a student’s story where the main character was very bored. He said that if the hero is bored, the reader is bored.
I felt the same way here– if 1940’s travel and communication were tedious, reading about it in exacting detail is also tedious.
Not a homerun, but still stuck in my mind
What’s a book that’s all genre and no characters? Basically the best history book ever, but not truly a novel. I never connected with the characters so there was no story to love. Yet the two books combined are about 1100 pages, and I made it through them in a week, so obviously there was something there. The description of the psychological toll of the London Blitz was so powerful that I often find myself thinking about the events, long after finishing the last page.
Read Blackout and All Clear if you want to see what it means to truly research the heck out of a topic, or you’d like to see an example of a time travel in a book that is decidedly outside the sci-fi genre.
Have you had a similar reaction to a book, where you didn’t love the story yet can’t stop thinking about it?