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All Clear

December 14, 2010

I’m not quite halfway into All Clear, Connie Willis’s follow up to Blackout. It’s not a sequel, it’s a continuation, of a book the author realized was so large in scope that it extended across two lengthy novels. Time traveling historians study the daily life and social history of World War II, while hoping that their presence as people from the future doesn’t alter history so much so that they endanger themselves. These are historians who could know so much, and feel so insulated and detached by their studies. And yet, the dual perils of avoiding paradox and just navigating wartime’s unpredictable life are sources of constant tension and danger.

In both stories, Willis manages a density of detail that makes me forgive a few moments of confusion jumping between members of the ensemble cast. (I think I definitely lost track of Polly’s backstory in between novels.) Willis’s descriptions of the ordinary facts of wartime life are so meticulous that I can practically feel the texture of a prized pair of nylon stockings, or hear the boom of planes dropping bombs mercifully somewhere else.

I’ve read both these books in a way that doesn’t do them justice. I put them on my waiting list at the library, so I didn’t read them as a continuous whole, but had about 2 months in between. All Clear picks up immediately where Blackout breaks off, and I could have done with a little bit more grounding, a few more references to the contexts and past events for each character.

Clearly, I have to go back and reread the books without a gap, as they were meant to be.

Only then, after being so deeply drawn into their World War II story, I am sure I will feel like a time traveler myself.

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