Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead
Doomsday Book really put me through the wringer. I woke up a
couple of nights ago, worrying about the characters. They've popped into
my head frequently the last few days. And I was in tears when I read
the ending yesterday.
I think this is by far the best Connie
Willis book I've read - and I've mostly enjoyed her other works.
Everything is working on all cylinders in this book - the writing is
superb, the juxtaposition of the two time periods masterful, the
characters engaging, the story heartbreaking.
Against the better
judgement of one of the historians (read: time travelers) at Oxford,
Medieval History is sending someone back in time. Kivrin, Dunworthy's
brightest student, is bound and determined to go, and enlists his help
despite his misgivings about the project. And go she does, sent back to
England not long before the Black Death arrives. Or is the timing off?
Kivrin negotiates an illness of her own and the complexities of
medieval life, all is not well in the small manor where she finds
herself. Unsure where the drop that brought her through is, she doesn't know if she'll ever make it back. And then it gets worse.
the same time, an outbreak of a new strain of the flu in Oxford puts the
city under quarantine, and sparks panic and recrimination. The
mirroring of plague in England with an epidemic in modern times is
chilling and well done.
But the real strength here is the
characters. Headstrong Kivrin, protective Dunworthy, intrepid Colin
(11-year-old who finds himself in the middle of the power struggle in
the modern period to save Kivrin.) And in the medieval period, the
characters sparkle, both familiar and foreign. (view spoiler)And
as they start one by one to die from the plague, it is gutwrenching.
Willis captures so well the desperation of watching everyone around you
die, and being able to do so little.
the way, she challenges the idea of how much we know about the past,
and while her medieval setting may or may not be accurate, it is
convincing. I loved it for putting a human face on the past, on seeing
them as people, not entirely like ourselves, but not entirely foreign
either. I loved it for juxtaposing the historians Kivrin leaves behind
who prattle about numbers and ignore what those numbers mean with the
people she encounters, who are not great, are not important in the grand
scheme of things, but who nonetheless, matter.
I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees