Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The Doomsday BookThe Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In honor of the billboards across America that are predicting today as “Judgment Day,” I've decided to review The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

A great portion of this book takes place during a period of history that must have been considered to be the “End Times.” These were the years of the great plague or black death when 30 to 60% of the population of Europe died from disease. The Doomsday Book won the Hugo award in 1993.

Connie Willis is an author who loves to give her readers thoroughly researched facts. Although the book begins in 2054 and is about time travel, the sections that cover the middle ages are written with a great amount of detail and have a feel of accuracy that is remarkable. I checked on the dates mentioned and on some of the facts discussed (such as the three types of plague) and found Willis to be accurate. These details in a story that focuses on the humanity of its characters, provided an exciting way to learn about a period of history I don't know well.

Mr. Dunworthy has a paternal relationship with Kivrin, his student. It is his desire to protect her, along with a sense of guilt, that motivates him to help her at a time when she's stuck in the middle ages and no one else seems to care.

In the 1300's, Lady Eliwys has feelings for Gawyn, one of her servants. Her husband is away, but her mother-in-law, Imeyne, is living with them. The elder woman notices the relationship, creating tension between Eliwys and Imeyne. Eliwys is a person who responds to people and situations based on appearances. She does not like the local priest because he is not attractive and does not always follow ritual in the way she thinks is proper.

Meanwhile, in the twenty-first century, Dunworthy is dealing with Gilchrist, a department head in charge of the “drop” (the session to send Kivrin back in time). Gilchrist's only concern seems to be who gets credit and/or blame for the project. So in both timeframes Willis creates real, personal interactions that keep the human feel in her science fiction.

Another aspect of Connie Willis's writing that I admired in The Doomsday Book is her portrayal of children. These characters are as fully developed as the adults. At times they ignore the instructions they've been given, but Dunworthy and Kivrin come to love them anyway and so do the readers.

I plan to recommend The Doomsday Book to my book club. It may be a little longer than most of our choices, but it reads quickly and is always captivating. It should be an excellent book for a discussion.

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