Review: Blackout, Connie Willis

Okay then, Connie Willis. Maybe we can be friends after all. Maybe.

Connie Willis writes books about Oxford historians who practice their historianship by going time traveling in their period of interest. I read The Doomsday Book a while ago, and did not care for it because I was bored by the characters, and I hate the Black Death, which is the protagonist historian’s period of interest. Yawn. I regretted not liking it better, because the premise felt like gold. Time-traveling and academics at Oxford? Gold.

Blackout has been garnering rave reviews all over the place, with warnings about the cliffhangery ending that it ends on, and I am as fond of the Blitz as the next person (okay, maybe a little more). I thought if I was ever going to be friends with Connie Willis’s time traveling historians, it would be because of Blackout (To Say Nothing of the Dog could have been great but Jerome K. Jerome and I are now enemies so I feared that would mess things up for me). And indeed, Blackout was a corrective emotional experience for me and my girl Connie. (Mostly.)

There are three main characters in Blackout: Michael, who is studying heroes in several different theaters of the war, accidentally winds up on a boat to Dunkirk, a crucial war divergence point that he’s not supposed to come anywhere near; Polly, who is meant to be a shop girl during the London Blitz but not for too long because she has to be gone by VE-Day (or else she will die because she’s already been to VE-Day); and Eileen (Merope really but she’s going by Eileen), who is studying children’s evacuations and is stuck with two truly dreadful London brats. They all, as it goes in time travel novels, get stuck there. The novel goes around between the three of them.

I am of two minds here. Primary Mind loved the administrative mix-ups in Oxford and couldn’t wait for the sequel so it could see more of adorable, love-struck Colin. Primary Mind, no matter how much it tries to convince itself that it has become cynical and cannot be affected by the magnificence of Blitzed London, always discovers in the event (and Blackout was no exception) that Blitzed London is magnificent enough to break through the most determined of cynicism. Primary Mind liked the plot and felt sad, when the book ended, that it didn’t have the sequel sitting right next to it. Primary Mind wanted every single page to be full of Sir Godfrey.

But Secondary Mind had some complaints. Secondary Mind didn’t like all the skipping around between characters who were always just missing each other and never connecting, and it made it hard to focus on worrying about any single set of characters. Secondary Mind got frustrated with all the times the contemps (contemporary citizens) would say “I wonder if we’ll all live through this night!” and the historian characters would think, You will. But sixteen people on Oxford Street won’t. Their bodies will be found tomorrow all shredded up, and Hitler will compose another verse in his crude parody of “Rule Britannia.” Secondary Mind was like, YES. We GET IT. You know the future and the contemps DO NOT. Secondary Mind couldn’t help thinking the book could have been better.

(Tertiary Mind meekly pointed out that Secondary Mind had cranky nitpicks about Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin too, a book about which Primary and Secondary Mind were in similar disagreement, and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin now has an only slightly guilty place on the regular rereading circuit.)

And that’s how it all went down. My critical faculties and my heart were at war, but my heart is winning out insofar as I cannot wait to read All Clear, and probably To Say Nothing of the Dog as well. Maybe a couple of times. Maybe enough times that Connie Willis will be one of my favorite rereadable authors someday. You never know.

For more, I refer you to the Book Blogs Search Engine. Beware you do not accidentally click on a review that tells you what happens in All Clear. I know the big thing but you may not want to. Cause yeah. There’s a big thing. Library, come on! Send my book! I want it more than those other fools ahead of me in the hold line!

P.S. Speaking of mixed minds, I have watched this commercial six times this evening (twice by rewinding my television, and four times after finding it on YouTube). It infuriates me because I am still mad at BP and will never not be mad at BP; it causes me to hunger for shrimp etouffee even though I am full from eating the awesome pesto-spinach-ricotta-mozzarella stuffed shells I made myself for dinner; but mainly it makes me miss home. Dudes up here do not talk like that.

Review: Wise Children, Angela Carter

Claire of Paperback Reader has selected April as the month to make everybody read Angela Carter, her favorite ever author.  Her enthusiasm is contagious!  And so even though I got tired of Angela Carter’s fairy tales when I tried to read The Bloody Chamber (I can’t be doing with too many short stories at once), and even though I gave up on Nights at the Circus a while ago (it fell due and I was reading other books), I decided to try again.  I am the master of trying again.

By the way, I do not like it that “master of X” is gender-specific and does not translate across gender lines.  “Mistress of trying again” sounds like Trying Again and I are meeting in seedy motels on weekends when Trying Again’s wife is visiting her family.  Particularly when I have just finished reading a book that is all about convoluted sexual relationships.

Wise Children is about twins Nora and Dora Chance, the illegitimate daughters of Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard.  As the their father’s 100th birthday party dawns, Dora remembers her past with Nora, their early days as dancers in pantos and variety shows, their father’s mistresses and wives and children, their own affairs, the events that took them from London to Hollywood and back again.  Many are the twins and much is the confusing and blurry implication of incest here and incest there, exactly blurrily enough implied so as not to bother me.

I think that Angela Carter is like what I imagine marzipan to be like, or maybe this particular sort of chocolate mint cake my father has: delicious and rich but you maybe wouldn’t want a massive lot of it at once.  I’m excited to read The Magic Toyshop, but between then and now I want to read several other books that have a completely different flavor.  (Jacqueline Woodson, Maggie O’Farrell, Ysabeau Wilce, A.S. Byatt, Ysabeau Wilce, would have been Martha Southgate and Bob Woodward too but the downtown library was closed.)  That said, I loved Angela Carter’s writing.  I loved her depiction of London, and I loved the way she left some things to the reader’s imagination.

In addition to having sentences too utterly plummy for words, Wise Children has an unbelievable number of characters.  I sometimes had difficulty in keeping track of all the characters, which bothered me a bit until the end.  At the end, everything came together most satisfyingly!  Y’all know how I love endings where all the bits come together.

This is my first Angela Carter novel.  I am looking forward to reading more (but not immediately).  And I did actually finish it during Angela Carter April, only I was slow about writing a review.  That is because I was finishing the Company novels.  Had to finish ’em.  Wanted the cyborgs to bring down the Company.

Other reviews:

Bibliofreak
Steph and Tony Investigate!

Let me know if I missed yours!