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I read The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis yesterday. All in one day. That goes some way towards showing how good a read I found it.
I picked the book up from Amazon marketplace, since apparently it went out of print in February 2003 (so there might still be copies in your local bookshop, if you're quick). I chose it on the basis of KarenUK's opinion I read here a few days earlier (thanks, Karen!), and I'd never heard of Connie Willis before.
The book itself is pretty hefty, at nearly 600 pages, so there's plenty to get your teeth into.
The plot is pacy and interesting from the first word. It is set in the near future (2054) and things are certainly different to the present day. There have been significant changes to the NHS, for example. Most spectacularly, time travel is possible. It seems to be limited to historians, or history students, who can travel into the past to study their period in person.
The novel focuses on Kivrin, a history student at Oxford university, who travels back in time to the fourteenth century, the period when the Black Death (or bubonic plague) was introduced to Britain. But Kivrin will be perfectly safe, as she's being sent to 1320, a full 28 years before the first case was recorded.
Only...something goes wrong.
Perhaps predictably, Kivrin ends up in 1348 at Christmas, just as the plague is reaching Oxford. The action is split between her activities and experiences in the past, and the situation in Oxford of the "present" day (well, in 2054). Which, coincidentally, also seems to have been beset by plague of some kind.
I found the juxtaposition between times very interesting, in the way that illness and death was dealt with. We haven't come so far as we might hope in our treatment of the ill and the compassion shown to them.
The subject of pronounciation was interesting to me - it's something that we know very little about during the middle ages. Why did the great vowel shift happen, when did it happen? We don't really know the answers to these questions (although many scholars think that they do). Willis challenges the status quo of academic opinion, having Kivrin be misunderstood when she tries to use her carefully learnt middle english vocabulary directly.
I found the ending of the book strangely dissatisfying. I was left with quite a few questions, such as where was the head of the history department, and why couldn't they trace him? What was the reaction when Kivrin returned? Was Francis planning a sequel? I have to admit I hope so, and it seems as if there's enough loose ends to justify one.
All in all, this is a fantastic page-turner, and I'd definitely recommend it.
If that was your second review, it is a darned sight better than mine.
magdadh 10.07.2004 17:09
I approached this about 10 times 'like a dog would approach a hedgehog' to use a Polish expression and never started... this might just about convince me.
Mojoly 28.06.2003 17:26
I went to this op thinking 'does she mean *the* Doomsday Book?! I'm glad I read it. You give a good precis and tell just enough about the book to whet the whistle. I've rated your op very heldful because I never heard of the book and now I want to read it so I'm going off to buy it. Thanks!