Nancy brought Connie Willis' All Clear home from the library. I picked it up and took it to the cabin named Sidetrack because I'd read The Doomsday Book, Remake, and To Say Nothing of the Dog years ago and liked them. There was another Willis book, Promised Land, that I wasn't so fond of.
All Clear was advertised on the dust jacket as another of Willis' time travel novels. I'd found that to be an entertaining and clever device in earlier books. The plot device is that Oxford University historians about 50 years from now discover a method of time travel that lets them go into the past as researchers and return to their rooms in mid-21st century Oxford to write eye-witness accounts of historical events.
Willis' characters are most interested in what went on in London during World War II (as in To Say Nothing of the Dog).
I quickly found out that the 600+ page All Clear was the second of two volumes telling one story. Since I'd read earlier time travel books, I thought I could get by without reading the first volume, Blackout. It turns out I could get by without reading all of the second volume as well.
How many times do I have to read some internal dialogue about a character's fears that she's trapped in the past? Or that she's done something to trap another researcher in the past? Or that one of her colleagues has done something to change the course of history? Well, Willis seemed to think that one or another of her characters just had to say those things to herself every few pages. And how often was it necessary for me to read about the anxieties of getting to work on time or the exact details of what trains were necessary to travel from one part of London to another?
Willis is a successful author, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't need an editor.
[Short aside: Nancy's website features a quotation from T. S. Eliot: "Even a superb writer needs a good editor. A merely good writer needs a superb editor."]
To Say Nothing of the Dog was full of humor and joy. This book was full of anxiety and stress. Okay, the V-1 and V-2 rockets and the Blitz were no fun in London. But the earlier book was also set in London during World War II London. If Blackout, the first volume is a twin to this one, I'd suggest that someone abridge the two and make a (400-page?) science fiction novel out of them. I might have enjoyed reading that and even finished it.
Then I picked up Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time at the Northfield library. It got on my "To Read" list because of a review in the New York Times. Stacey D'erasmo wrote that "Petterson’s narratives tend to unspool in the first person, in hushed, confidential tones. Tight-lipped with one another, his characters open their hearts to the reader, making us witnesses to their most private selves. He makes the reader lean in, out of the wind, to listen closely..."
I'd read Out Stealing Horses a few years ago and liked it. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for the moody, self-indulgent, un-selfconscious internal dialogues in I Curse the River of Time either. The main character wasn't interesting to me.
Another book I didn't finish.
Oh, well. My "To Read" list is still long. It was disappointing that one of the books on the list is only available from the libary as an e-book for an e-reader. I don't have one of those yet. But books? I can handle lots of them.
Have you read Connie Willis' All Clear? or Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time? How did you react? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your experience.
- Connie Willis' web site
- An admiring review by Julie Phillips in The Village Voice
- A less admiring review by Dorman T Schlinder in the Denver Post
- Per Petterson's web site
- An admiring review of Petterson's book by Kristin Ohlson at Cleveland. com
- Rachel Cusk's positive review of I Curse the River of Time from The Guardian (UK)