Thursday, 12 February 2009
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
The current cover and edition, the one I just bought two weeks ago.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
Every once in a while you come across the perfect book. The one that takes your breath away, where every word is perfectly placed, where the story comes alive for you, and there is nothing else in your world as you read. Doomsday Book has been that book for me for well over 15 years. I have to admit to some trepidation when I bought a replacement copy two weeks ago (I lent it to someone and it's never come back), and decided it was time to revisit it. Would it hold up? Would I still love it? I think I was almost holding my breath when I opened it last weekend. And then I was swept away, and when I resurfaced late Monday afternoon (I was home sick but well enough to read!), when I put the book down, my eyes were red and puffy from crying and it was still a perfect book.
So what makes it so good? you ask. How can a time travel book back to the Middle Ages, from 2050 AD Oxford, be thrilling, moving, gut-wrenching, and sometimes funny reading? When you have strong characters who seem like they stepped out of life onto the page, when you have a story that is filled with love, and curiosity, and human errors, and determination, all that's best about people, and the very interesting idea of time travel and how it could work - in the hands of one of the US's best science fiction writers, it becomes a luminous novel.
What? you ask. A science fiction novel that's luminous? How can that be? Doomsday Book concentrates on people first, how they relate to one another, their relationships, and then how their actions affect others. The science is there, an integral part of the plot, but isn't the reason the book exists. The book exists because of Kivrin and Mr Dunworthy and what happened when Kirvrin travelled back in time to 14th century England. And this part is very well thought out; how could someone go back in time and not upset the time they landed in? How could a person be prepared for this kind of travel? How do you cope when you land there? Doomsday Book answers all these.
Most of all, 14th century England comes alive, specifically life in a tiny village. The first time I read this book, I had only a hazy idea about life in the Middle Ages and how people lived then. Since reading this book I have lived in England, and I have seen first-hand surviving 14th century houses and streets, so I have a much better sense of what life was like back then. Once again, Doomsday Book surprised me with its recreation of the Middle Ages in the characters, the locale, everything is thought out and planned and covered for.
The book takes place in 14th century England - to say any more would be to give a way a key plot point, so I won't! and 2050 Oxford. I certainly wish that half of what Willis envisioned, especially the phones that are actually video screens, would come true! All of the characters are wonderful, people that talk to each other, and are funny, or proud, or determined.
Here are a few of my favourite passages:
'She had been wrong about not recognizing anything - she knew these woods after all. It was the forest Snow White had got lost in, and Hansel and Gretel, and all those princes. There were wolves in it, and bears, and perhap's even witch's cottages, and that was where all those stories had come from, wasn't it, the Middle Ages? And no wonder. Anyone could get lost in here.'
"None go to Bath," the boy said. "All who can, flee it."
She put the lists at the bottom of her sheaf of papers and began passing the top sheets, which were a virulent pink, around to everyone. they appeared to be a release form of some sort, absolving the Infirmary of any and all responsibility.....
She handed Dunworthy a blue sheet which absolved the NHS of any and all responsibility and confirmed willingness to pay any and all charges not covered by the NHS in full and within thirty days.....
The sheet was distributing now ws green and headed "Instructions for Primary Contacts." Number one was, "Avoid contact with others."
"Record your temp at half-hour intervals," she said, handing round a yellow form. ...
She handed Dunworthy another pink sheet. She was running out of colors. This one was a log, headed "Contacts," and under it, "Name, Address, Type of Contact, Time."
It was unfortunate that Badri's virus had not had time to deal with the CDC, the NHS, and theWIC. It would never have got in the door.
Did I mention the lovely sense of humour like in the above passage, and for example, the head of the department who has gone away for the holidays, and can't be found? Most of Willis's books have this wry laughter along with a sense of sorrow. For me, this is some of what makes her books accessible to everyone. You don't have to understand any math or science to know how time travel works in her worlds!
Cover, 1st edition, hardcover. I used to have a copy of this version also, and it was lent out and got damaged. I love this book so much that I want everyone to read it! However, I've decided that from now on, I will just buy a copy when I want someone to read it!
This book is such a satisfying read that I haven't really been able to pick another one up yet. I can't recommend this highly enough. It's still, one of my favourite books.