Archive | 11:53 AM

Book Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (4/5)

12 Feb

One of my coworkers recommended two books to me last year; Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I was hugely disappointed by Outlander so I was a bit nervous to pick up Willis’ book. But when something’s available in eBook, I don’t fight it. My library’s collection is limited. And I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Cover image via

Cover image via

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Summary from Goodreads:

In the year 2054, students research the past by living in it. So when Kivrin Engle, a history student at Oxford, enters Brasenose College’s time machine for transport back to 1320s England, no one anticipates any problems.

But her two-week project takes a frightening turn. A mutant virus has been spreading through Oxford, and Kivrin arrives in the past delirious with fever. She is found and taken to a manor house, and when she recovers, she can no longer locate the time machine rendezvous point.

As Kivrin struggles to adjust to a past that’s not quite what she expected, a past where the Black Death is beginning to ravage a mystified, terrified population. With the only people who know where she’s gone seriously ill themselves, will Kivrin ever find her way back to the future? Or has she become a permanent exile in a deadly time?

I’m not normally one for time travel, but I loved the academic approach this book took to the process. It was research! That’s so cool. I also loved the parallel story lines between Kivrin and Mr. Dunworthy and how they discovered the sources of the problems they were living through. The side characters were great, too, especially Agnes, Collin, and Badri. For someone who’s skeptical when it comes to science fiction, this was a great way to get me interested in the subject. I love history and exploring the Middle Ages with Kivrin was wonderful. I looked up the second book in the series and it seems to have a very different focus so I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’m really glad I read this.

I thought the way the 2054 town reacted to a quarantine was highly accurate. There are those who are scared, who think it’s a joke, who will go with religious implication, and who are more worried about lavatory paper than anything else. Willis had a great collection of characters in both settings who showed a depth to the time periods. It was very well done.

Collin was my favorite. I adored his determination to help through the quarantine and his resilience toward the end. It was good to have a young character in the modern century to compare with the girls in the Middle Ages and I think Collin was a great choice. I liked how it first appeared like he was indifferent about the situation and didn’t really care about his aunt or mother and how they treated him but as Dunworthy got to know him, he was able to read the boy’s emotions. I think Collin will grow up to be a great historian.

He’s an odd person to relate to, but I think I would have reacted much like Mr. Finch in the situation. He was very logical in how he approached the problem of how to feed, house, and care for everyone. He didn’t say ‘no’ to helping people, just to giving them lavatory paper and feeding them vegetables. When I’m faced with a problem, I’ll take stock of the supplies and then see how I should proceed. I like to think he was a useful character.

I loved the process of discovering the source of the modern illness. It was a sort of mystery that I thought unraveled at a great pace. I liked that it kept the modern story line moving while the Middle Ages one was a bit slow and then the two switched places. Willis did a great job crafting this.

"ConnieWillisCW98 wb". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“ConnieWillisCW98 wb”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There’s not a part of the novel that sticks out to me as slow or uninteresting. There are not many books I can say this about and it’s a huge tribute to Willis’ pacing.

The book explored all the different ways humans deal with crisis. Mary used science and Mrs. Gaddson used God. We can also look at Lady Imeyne and Father Roche who both turned to God but in very different ways to deal with the crisis. Collin wanted to help in any way possible and Mr. Dunworthy was focused on helping one person beyond his reach. I don’t think I’m particularly good at dealing with a sudden and huge crisis like the characters in this book faced and it was really interesting to me to see how it was dealt with in the book.

Writer’s Takeaway: Pacing, pacing, pacing! What a great example of how plots and subplots can slow if only the other plots are racing ahead. It keeps the book moving in one way or another. I want to make sure my book is keeping such great pacing and I have a wonderful example in Willis’ book.

Great book and wonderful writing though not in a genre that’s right for me. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the Pre 1500 time period in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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