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

22 Feb

When I wrote my review for another of Willis’s books, Debbie at Moon in Gemini recommended Willi’s ‘short novella’ Bellwether if I wanted something more modern by the same author. It took me a year, but I got to it. It helped that the library had it on audio.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Bellwether by Connie Willis

Other Connie Willis books reviewed on this blog:
The Doomsday Book (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions.

This was so fun and cute and I really enjoyed it. Yes, it was a romance and yes it was fun, but it wasn’t full of too-good-to-be-true characters who were attractive and perfect. I liked them all. Though, I’m not sure if I would define something of this length as a ‘novella.’ It was 250 pages which I would call a novel but I guess when her other books are 500-ish pages, this does feel short in comparison. I had one beef with the book that kept it from a full 5 stars for me, which I’ll get to later but the characters and science in the book were fun and had me laughing out loud a lot.

Sandy and Bennet were remarkably normal characters who were well aware of their normalcy while everyone else had, at least, one quirk. Flip is hard to ignore as an over-the-top character, but it was a very real portrayal of those who are fashion forward and always up on the latest trend. The other scientists and Billy Ray seemed to be oblivious to the influences they had in their lives and I liked that Sandy could see them all. A great cast of characters to bring this story together.

Flip was both my favorite and least favorite character. She was fun to read about and could always be counted on for a fun like to brighten the story and make me laugh. But she was also irritating. She combined everyone you’d been forced to work with and hated into one person. She was also the person you think it staring at your outfit and judging it all the time and the person who you run into when you don’t want to. All in one. It created a love-hate relationship.

I related to Sandy and Ben in different ways. I related to Ben because a frequently feel my style is, at least, three years behind the time and I don’t even notice. I started wearing skinny jeans way too late and I’m still suck on them. I’m refusing to give into the ‘workout clothes in public’ trend that I’ve noticed a lot lately. Running tights are for running. I also related to Sandy because I’ll notice trends going on around me (like running tights) and feel like I’ behind because I just don’t get it. Honestly, what am I missing? How are comfortable clothes now a trend when it hasn’t been like that since the 80s and we all now agree that was a terrible trend. I’m missing something.

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

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

The subplot with Billy Ray was my favorite of the book. He was a trendy guy from a subculture you wouldn’t think of as trendy. It was fun to see which trends affected his character and how he was similar to Flip in a lot of different ways. I also enjoyed the nod to cell phones in the 90s when this was published. It dated the book for sure, but it was fun to remember them.

For the first 80% of the book, I couldn’t figure out what the goal of the characters was. I felt that ‘finding the source of hair bobbing’ was too vague to be the main purpose of a novella. That’s what I would expect to find in a non-fiction book. It made the book seem very lost to me for a long time. I enjoyed the jabs at management and hearing how Flip can ruin everything, but I failed to see an end point until very close to the end.

My audiobook was narrated by Kate Reading and I absolutely loved her. She kept Sandy light and airy, gave believable voices to the male characters. She did great voices for Flip and the other waiters and waitresses Sandy ran into who were rude and eye-rolling to customers. It was fun all around and Reading kept Sandy light-hearted and sarcastic which was great.

It wasn’t a problem that the characters were following fads. It wasn’t even their fault. The clothes that are available and the restaurants that stay open are often because of fads and trends. Sandy had to live with wearing PoMo Pink and drinking Cafe Lattes because that was available. But it was good to be aware that certain things were trends. The anti-smoking fad for example. It caused everyone to be mean to Cheryl when she was the most important person at HiTek. Sandy’s ability to identify fads made her resilient to them to a degree, but she still had to follow some of them.

Writer’s Takeaway: Reading Willis’ Goodreads Author page, it points out that her protagonists often come up against minor characters single-mindedly pursuing a goal that seems irrational or illogical. This is a great source of humor in a book. Flip’s goal is to do as little as possible and her other coworker needs to find Romantic Bride Barbie. These goals affect the main character ways that can be humorous and provide the time for the protagonist to discover something about the goal. I want to try this technique.

A super fun read that cleansed my palate for some longer fantasy ahead. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled 1980-1999 for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Bellwether | Shelf Love
What your professor never told you about science: a review of Bellwether | Scientific Gems
Following The Leader – Bellwether, by Connie Willis | Serendipity

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