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28 September 2008 @ 09:56 pm
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

shezan warned me that this wasn't as funny as To Say Nothing of the Dog, and - well. It isn't.

But the last thing I expected was religious fervour. I came away feeling a sort of honour about people who served what they perceived to be god with all their ability, which is not something I feel a lot. Or ever. (Except during parts of Carpe Jugulum.)

'No one sent it,' Kivrin said. 'It's a disease. It's no one's fault. God would help us if He could, but He ..." He what? Can't hear us? Has gone away? Doesn't exist?

"He cannot come," she finished lamely.

"And we must act in His stead?" Roche said.

I mean, this was it. Before the true greed and corruption of the Renaissance and beyond, grubbing in the dirt with the other lowly in the eyes of God was how it worked. (Although I never did find out what Kivrin's stance on God was ... more on that later.)

... he said, without opening his eyes, "I feared you had gone."

She wiped the crusted blood by his mouth. "I would not go to Scotland without you."

"Not Scotland," he said. "To heaven."

This made me cry, and remember the kids who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in - was it France? Or Medjugorie? I read an account of it once (which I got from a monastery, and hence was probably a little biased in their favour - and that of the vision). The simple, innocent, complete belief.

This cloak, in spite of its rabbit-fur lining, wasn't warm at all. How had people survived the Little Ice Age dressed only in cloaks like this? How had the rabbits survived?

That was pretty funny.

I just ... I can't grasp the point of this book. In TSNOTD, it was about the extinction of cats and how tiny acorns grow into mighty oaks and it's always the butler and the interesting peculiarities of time travel. Also romance, which was sadly lacking here. 'Sadly,' because Willis does romance really well when she wants to. A five second interval about Roche's awestruck adoration for Kivrin didn't really fill the hole. Maybe it was about how true historians record history as it happens, no matter the peril to themselves. Yet this wasn't real history - Agnes et al were as much figments of Willis' imagination as everyone else. She went to a lot of effort to set up interesting dynamics in the family only to kill them off, one by one. There was nowhere near the level of complexity in TSNOTD, which was essentially a mystery novel.

Kivrin's motivations were never properly elucidated. I expected some kind of nemesis because she was so keen to go to the Middle Ages - um, why? Of all times? Gross - against Mr Dunworthy's better judgement. The punch of her being sent to the wrong year was ripped away by the blurb - my hatred for blurbs knows no bounds! - so I spent half the book going, 'Dude, I know she's in the middle of the Black Death. Get on with it already.' I have no idea why half a chapter was wasted on the difficulty in getting the translator to work, when it worked fine after five minutes and its dysfunction had no impact on the plot whatsoever.

As well, it wasn't funny, as shezan rightly pointed out. There was a lot of 'Dunworthy went here and then there and did this and saw Finch and saw Montoya and saw Colin and did something else.' It was ... superfluous, added pages to the book, and in light of the invention of mobile phones and the internet, is a conceit that aged poorly.

Not to mention that, because there was so much action, there was relatively little character development. I'll never forget the screamlets from TSNOTD. I spent hours with both Kivrin and Mr Dunworthy, yet I saw nothing of their real thoughts. I wondered if it was going to go in a Kivrin/Dunworthy direction early on, but there wasn't even that. Weird.

Finally, I thought she said in TSNOTD that you could only bring contemporary materials through the net. So why was Colin able to bring a pocket torch, a locator and aspirin to the Dark Ages?

Does anyone know if all her books are about the same people/place/time machine? Not that I mind reading them out of order, I'd just like to know. Now with added spoilers of same!

Previously, on Book Glomp 2008:
Middlemarch | Invisible Monsters | A Thousand Splendid Suns | Love in the Time of Cholera | Oscar and Lucinda | Kim | Breakfast at Tiffany's | Atonement | To the Lighthouse | On the Road | Brideshead Revisited | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Bonjour Tristesse | A Passage to India | Three Men in a Boat | Vile Bodies | Prozac Nation | The Heart of the Matter | Jinx; Airhead
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: pas de cheval (panic at the disco)
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: fishscoradh on September 28th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, see, I only copped to that romance RIGHT THEN. And while it was deeply moving RIGHT THEN, I didn't appreciate any of the build-up because I didn't think there was any. TSNOTD was much cooler because it had the two contemps and the two time-travellers and nothing was Doomed.

She certainly understands a lot about medicine and the whole non-explained Pandemic was interesting. It would be pretty awesome to have antivirals at all, let alone ones you can find the serotype for and manufacture in DAYS. A bit over-hopeful, methinks.

I think she realistically presented how people back in the Dark Ages felt about religion. If people believe in an afterlife that's fine - and in god, that's fine - she never thrusts it down our throats, which is good. It's very much 'and this is how the character felt,' rather than 'the author.' Which is probably why she succeeded in moving me.
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Balloonsscoradh on September 28th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
When she assumed he didn't know where the drop was, I BELIEVED her, dammit. I thought maybe he was a time-traveller too, in which case I would've been ahoy sexytiems, but when it became obvious that he wasn't I also abandoned that thought. Oops.
murklins: readingmurklins on September 29th, 2008 07:25 am (UTC)
Connie Willis sings in her church choir, I believe. :)

Oh, and went to verify my shaky memory, I found an excellent quote here: http://www.adherents.com/people/pw/Connie_Willis.html
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murklins: joyousmurklins on September 30th, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for the tip off. I found it here, but it may be just an excerpt? I haven't had a chance to read it yet to see. If it is just an excerpt, it's a rather huge one.

I love how so many of her stories get published online. I always end up reading them in the short story collections, anyway, but I prefer not having to wait.
Harry's complete lack of ducks: book reviewharriet_vane on September 28th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
They aren't all in this universe, but I think several are. I much preferred To Say Nothing of the Dog, but then, I prefer light-hearted and hilarious.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: rose petal bowlscoradh on September 28th, 2008 09:42 pm (UTC)
Ditto. Not that this wasn't absorbing, interesting, well-written, etc, but - I'd never want to read it twice.
one minute movie reviewsoneminutemovies on September 28th, 2008 10:16 pm (UTC)
I think Passage is the most impressive of her books but it's not as much fun to read as TSNOTD. It creates a frustrating mood which I thought contributed in the end to the overall experience, but I'm afraid you might have the same feeling of impatience as with Doomsday Book. I know from the experience of having recommended it to people that it's not everybody's cup of tea.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: black catscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)
I didn't actually feel impatient with Doomsday Book, or at least not till the end. She's an absorbing writer. I suppose I was just expecting to fall in love again, like I did with TSNOTD.
allyndra: Blue Rajaallyndra on September 28th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
I love To Say Nothing of the Dog and reread it often, while Doomsday Book has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust sine the first reading, even though I thought it was good. It probably says something about the shallowness of my mind, but my favorite part was the line about the Christmas service when they read about Caesar laying on his people a tax hike. :o)

These are the only two books dealing with the time-travelling historians, but there's a short story called "Fire Watch," which was written before either book and is set in this 'verse. I didn't actually care for it, but if you want to be a completionist, you should check it out. I've heard that she's writing a third book in this 'verse, but I don't know for sure.

I did enjoy Bellwether (in which the heroine studies trends and fads) very much, and I kind of liked Remake (in which the hero removes prohibited content from old movies). Both of them are the kind of books that pop into my head frequently. Lincoln's Dreams was interesting, but it will never be my favorite of her books.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: socksscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
I wish that had been expanded a little more! I got that the Re-Reformed were some mad modernistic cult or whatever, but that was a huge comic vein left untapped.

I certainly will read more of her books, because it's not often I find someone as accomplished a writer as she is. Swapped to Doug Coupland atm though, so it's all good. :D
Online I'm a Giantparthenia14 on September 28th, 2008 10:55 pm (UTC)
I liked this - well, I liked the realistic portrayal of medieval Britain, but it was bloody depressing and as you say there is bog all development, really.

I bought TSNOTD recently, but haven't started it. I read Bellwether and completely loved it though.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Balloonsscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
It was interesting. That was mainly it!

kestrelsparhawkkestrelsparhawk on September 29th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
About half of Willis' books are complete downers, though in many ways brilliant. I heard her read "Lincolns' Dreams" (a piece of it) and fell in love with it, so I've read quite a few. I do recommend that; it's sort of a time travel novel, though nothing like the Dog universe' kind. Lots of research on Lee -- she's committed to research, and I'm a nerd.

Her other funny books... well, I can only think of Bellwether offhand, and I was really disappointed in it; very shallow, and while one (again) loves the research, it's more like a cultural manifesto than a cultural satire.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Audrey Hepburnscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Willis
(I kind of wondered if the bits with the translator were simply so she could show off her Middle English homework.)

I was just expecting something other than what I got. TSNOTD is so complex and layered and yet at the same time light-hearted and joyful; a real masterpiece. I am kind of boggling that Doomsday won the Nebula and the other thing; what was it about the book that merited it such accolades? I think I missed that.
warning: may contain nutsnaatz on September 29th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
Completely random person passing by;

Finally, I thought she said in TSNOTD that you could only bring contemporary materials through the net. So why was Colin able to bring a pocket torch, a locator and aspirin to the Dark Ages?

Because it wouldn't matter. When you bring all of that stuff to a place where everybody is dead, there's nobody who can see it. IIRC, that's also why Kivrin ended up in the Black Death timeperiod, in a village where everybody died; because that's the closest to time she wanted to go, but the first she wouldn't have the chance to change things to thoroughly.

On another note, Bellwether is fantastic, and Passage is an unreadable mess. At least Doomsday is readable and with nice parts.

~~moving on~

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: blue bustierscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:39 pm (UTC)
Ah. I didn't catch that, myself. In TSNOTD there's quite a big fuss about it; the whole plot hinges on whether or not you can do that. So.

I'll be reading them all eventually, but forewarned is forearmed!
Shezanshezan on September 29th, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)
Well, in the Middle Ages you expect to have the centrality of religion. That's what they were pretty much about. Willis is a Christian, which you find in interesting ways in Passage (which I also loved.) Do warn for spoilers in the comments in an ETA, perhaps?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: deerscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
Except that the last time I learned about the Middle Ages I was fourteen, and it basically consisted of: THE RATS DID IT. :D

I didn't think there were any spoilers, but sure I'll warn anyway.
Shezanshezan on September 29th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
... the comment telling Roche dies...
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on September 29th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, right.

I just assume anyone who's reading the review in the first place will know there's spoilers about it, because it would be hard to discuss it without spoiling it. (Also lj cut!) But there's a warning now, anyway.