Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Yesterday at around this time, I was supposed to post the first half of a joint review of The Doomsday Book which I read with Aarti. Unfortunately it is now a day late because of some internet issues I suddenly had yesterday that required the purchase of a new modem. Sorry again Aarti!

Aarti's thoughts are in purple and mine are in black. You can read the second part (even though it has already been up there for a day) of the discussion over at Aarti's blog.


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Marg: A couple of years ago now we read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and we both loved it! It has taken us more than two years to do so, but finally we have gotten around to reading The Doomsday Book which was actually the first book that Willis set in this world!

How did you find coming back to this world after so long? Did you slip straight back in or did it take you a little while to get used to it again.

 Aarti: It took me a little while to get used to it again. I think I was trying to understand the rules of time travel for the first bit and then just gave up. For example, I still have no idea how Kivrin was sent to the wrong year! I think I jumped straight back into the atmosphere, though - I could imagine the snow falling, all those bells tolling, the shoppers hurrying to get home, the university deserted for Christmas vacation, and later on, the terror people had about the possibility of another pandemic.

Marg: Yes, I never quite got my head around how she ended up in the wrong year.

If I was to pick just one word to describe this book it would be frantic. In both the present and the past there was such a feeling of impending disaster as both people at both ends of history tried to work out what was going on and would they be able to figure out how to save their people.

Aarti: Oh, yes! I felt like we just kept getting peeks into a very complicated scenarios and were left in the dark about everything else. It was strange because the “present” in the book was so frantic and stressful, whereas the past seemed so quiet, without much action at all.

I admit I thought that the plague would have showed up a lot earlier in the book. It only really came more than halfway through. I guess I can see why, as Kivrin’s entries became somewhat repetitive at that point, just about the exhausting work of having to care for other people. I didn’t expect so much build-up to the action. What did you think of that?


Marg: I had been warned that this was very much a plague book so I kept on waiting for it to turn up in the pages. I initially thought that Kivrin had caught it very early on so when it finally did show up, I guess I wasn’t surprised. There was a lot of caring for the other characters, and I was moved when some of the characters died but there were others where it was more an afterthought reaction - oh, so and so finally died.

Let‘s talk about the characters. I loved the character of Colin. I couldn’t remember any of the characters from this book appeared in TSNOTD but I do know that they are in BlackOut and All Clear and I can’t wait to see him again.

Aarti: I really had fun with Colin, too! He had such a hilarious vocabulary :-) I don’t know if any of these characters appeared in TSNOTD, either - no memory of them!

I had trouble feeling connected to the characters in the 14th century. It wasn’t that there were too many, it was just that they didn’t seem to have much personality. Kivrin seemed so isolated from everyone except Agnes and the priest. They were all so absorbed in their own problems and I didn’t get to know them at all. In contrast, I thought I knew the people in the present much better. Colin, for example, had a great force of personality. I also understood better the relationships between the characters in the present. They had history together, and interacted much more often than those in the past. Did you have a similar reaction or a very different one?


Marg: Definitely! I think part of the reason that we didn’t feel connected to any of them is that Kivrin was trying to live up to her created persona rather than be herself and therefore she was always on edge trying to ensure that she didn’t say or do the wrong thing and behave in a way that would be inappropriate for a young woman in that time.

Aarti: Very true - that probably had something to do with it. I just got the impression that Kivrin hardly ever TALKED to anyone except Agnes. So even when the plague hit and people started dying, I felt completely distanced from the action and didn’t even really know who was

Now click here to read the second part of the discussion.

Synopsis

Kivrin knows everything about the Middle Ages - she's read all the books. She knows it's dangerous: cutthroats in the woods, witch hunts, cholera, and millions dying in the plague. For a young historian, it's fascinating.

When Kivrin's tutors in Oxford's history lab finally agree to send her on an on-site study trip, she jumps at the chance to observe medieval life first-hand. But a crisis that strangely links the past and future leaves her stranded in the most deadly and terrifying era in human history, face to face with the heart-rending reality behind the statistics. And while she fights for her own life, Kivrin finds she has become and unlikely angel of hope in this dark time.

This book also fulfills the "something you would carry in your purse/handbag" category for the What's in a Name challenge as I always carry at least one doom book around in my handbag!



19 comments:

  1. I'm off to read part two now, but so far it sounds like we responded to this book very differently! I did manage to feel connected to the characters from the 14th century, which means that the second part of the book pretty much killed me.

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    1. I did put this book down for a while near the middle and I wonder if that affected my connectedness.

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  2. It's clear to me that I need to reread this one again soon, as I have forgotten a lot of the stuff that you guys talked about. I lent this book to a coworker, and she never gave it back, forcing me to buy another copy, so I still have it, thank goodness for small favors!! Excellent joint post today, you two!

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    1. Hate it when people don't return books!

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  3. I have yet to read a Willis novel. That's it! After Dickens it's a Willis novel.
    As for time travel rules, like the Doctor says, "It's all a bit timey whiney." So don't sweat it.
    Fab conversation :)

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    1. I would recommend starting with To Say Nothing of the Dog.

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  4. I loved this one (although I did read it back in the olden days, when I was at uni), and I still have To Say Nothing of the Dog on my shelf to read. Willis is so much about mood and feeling--her books are often so quietly eerie, dealing with huge questions in an oblique manner. The same is true of Passage, which is excellent as well.

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    1. I haven't heard a lot about Passage really. I am planning to read Blackout and All Clear and then track down Passage.

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  5. I really enjoyed Doomsday Book, although I prefer Willis' more recent Blackout and All Clear as time travel novels. I didn't realize To Say Nothing of the Dog is set in the same world. I'll have to check that one out.

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    1. Interesting to hear that you preferred Blackout and All Clear.

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  6. Hmm, this sounds interesting. I like reading about that time period.

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    1. They are definitely interesting reads.

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  7. Interesting. Might need to look into the To Say Nothing on the Dog book.

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    1. I hope you do. That was a fabulous read.

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  8. I LOVED this book...but, of course, I read it when I was a teenager. ;)

    I hope I'll get to To Say Nothing of the Dog at some point. Thought I'd read Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) first, just in case. Not that I think I'd miss anything in Willis' book if I didn't read Jerome's book first. But when the allusion is so obvious....

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    1. I still haven't read Jerome K Jerome.

      Maybe I will get to it one day.

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  9. I'll admit, I didn't read this because I fear spoilers and that also makes me want to commit to reading this VERY SOON so I can come back and read your reviews. :)

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    1. We tried to avoid spoilers, but I know what you mean.

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  10. I am so excited to read this one. It sounds like it has the same feel as "Quest for the Lost Name" by George Makris, a great fast-paced historical fiction where a hammer of woe will strike the earth in 10 days unless an initiate recovers an ancient scroll with the Lost Name of God and unleashes its awesome power. Love these kinds of books. I can't wait to check out "Doomsday Book."

    http://questforthelostname.com/

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