Friday, April 17, 2015

Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

In a not-so-distant future, historians are able to delve into their research like never before by actually traveling to the periods they're studying. Kivrin is preparing to visit 1320 so she can learn about how people lived in the Middle Ages, while avoiding the plague that came a bit later. The techs and faculty send her off nervously, despite all their careful preparations, and almost immediately find themselves in the midst of an epidemic. When Kivrin arrives in the Middle Ages she takes ill herself and wakes up in a village not knowing how to find her way back to the rendezvous spot.

Doomsday Book is both science fiction and historical fiction and both parts of the story were engrossing and enjoyable. I knew I'd like Kivrin's story set in the time period she has studied for so long, yet remains unfamiliar. All the ways in which she prepared so she could blend in were fascinating, and the relationships she developed with the people she met there were interesting and sometimes touching. She stayed with a family and grew close to the two daughters, the twelve-year-old already betrothed to a much older man. The youngest daughter was completely unsuspecting and therefore a fount of information. Kivrin had to be more guarded around the adults, some of whom didn't quite believe her story: that she had been attacked in the forest and couldn't remember anything about her former life. As trouble settled on the village, the inhabitants came to depend on Kivin's help, just as she began to lose hope of ever returning home.

The other part of the story, set at the college, was also quite good. The main character here was Dunworthy, the instructor who helped Kivrin prepare but nevertheless wasn't completely sold on the idea of this trip. He was determined to get Kivrin back, even as he dealt with the chaos and quarantine from the illness sweeping through the area. It was actually surprisingly humorous in parts. There was a whole cast of amusing characters thrown together during what was a disorganized and desperate time, including a group of American bell-ringers who had arrived to perform and became stuck once the area was under quarantine, and an overbearing mother who came to look out for her son whose academic stress, to her, was of just as much importance as the rampaging illness. Of course, it was a serious epidemic so this wasn't all fun and games as people got very ill and some died. All the while Dunworthy and his colleagues struggled to overcome bureaucracy and technology to save Kivrin.

Time travel tends to be very confusing to me, but here it was kept simple with some very basic rules. The cast of characters was large, but not unwieldy, and their many personalities added a great deal to the story. I liked both Kivrin and Dunworthy and continued to root for their success, while at times resigning myself to failure. (I really didn't know how it would go until the very end.) Everything about this book worked really well for me.

This was one of my choices for the TBR Pile Challenge, and I think is the last of the more lengthy books on my list. It was around 450 pages, and while it wasn't a quick read it was just a great story that I found completely engrossing. If you like historical novels or science fiction, or just want a good book that you can really lose yourself in, you may want to try Doomsday Book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay! Glad you liked it. I love Connie Willis. Some more than others--she can take the frenetic non stop action too far for my taste--but they are all funny and interesting. If you like WW2 history, definitely read Blackout/All Clear. I had my frustrations while reading that, but it has stuck with me all the same. I also liked To Say Nothing of the Dog.