Review: Blackout – Connie Willis

Some books are read for pleasure. Other books are read to gain knowledge, to learn something factual or expand one’s mind. Still, there are books that fit into neither categories. They are read, because a person is bored and it’s the only free book available in a hostel. They are read, because it’s a beautiful day outside and there are few books which look appealing on the new book display. Blackout by Connie Willis is one of those books.

I grabbed the book off the shelf, sat outside with my lunch, and hoped to enjoy a hour’s respite from work. The premise of Willis’s novel is time travel. Historians based in Oxford travel back in time to study events. Willis’s intent seems to be the creation of a sweeping saga. She introduces a plethora of characters with little context. These characters will each have sections based on their third-person limited perspective, but it takes 50-100 pages to keep the straight or care about them.

The novel starts out knee deep in action, but it feels like something was missed. I asked myself if this were the second book in a series? Nope. The reader must play catch up and look for dialogue clearly written to pass information back to the reader. Remember when you wanted to go to the Crusades? Aw, that was ages ago, I’ve changed. Who is that dialogue for? The characters or the reader?

One major flaw with this novel is that it’s entirely overwritten.  Two-thirds of the book could be cut out and it wouldn’t really matter. Going back to the premise of the novel, historians travel back in time to study events. The group we follow are all headed for different points during World War II. There are some rules regarding time travel (of course, there are always rules), but Willis doesn’t go into these too much and definitely offers no basis for how time travel works. The historians use a machine called the Net and it’s so smart it won’t allow them to be placed in places where they may affect events. These points are called divergences. So, the historians go back in time, and lose contact with Oxford. What follows is their incredibly boring activities as the war rages on and they fret about returning home.

Eventually, the three find each other as their time has overlapped. That seems like the point of the novel. They’ll come together and be rescued. After 450 pages they are all in London and it seems like escape or rescue is imminent. Then, the books ends and there’s a message: “For the riveting conclusion of Blackout, be sure not to miss Connie Willis’s All Clear. Coming from Spectra in Fall 2010.”

I read this book, because it was there and I had nothing else to read. I skimmed along just to see what happened. Not only does nothing really happen in this novel, but the premise is ridiculous, and the characters are bland. Blackout is an inflated novel with little to say and even less to offer.


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