Connie Willis: ‘Blackout’
Blackout, as I am sure you are aware, was this years winner of the Hugo award for best novel. Such is the reason for me reading it. I am rapidly becoming averse to time travel stories as, try as they might, it seems that no author can truly get a solid grip on the subject without some kind of paradox slipping past them. However, Blackout gets around this by introducing a set of fundamental natural ‘laws’ of time travel, the main one being that no historian, or time traveller, can actually affect events enough to change history, and this appears to be enough to keep the novel on the straight and narrow as far as jumbly, mixed up timey-wimey stuff is concerned.
The novel deals with three characters who get stuck in various periods of second world war England. The story itself is less of a science fiction and more of a hymn to the bravery of the English as they fought alone against Hitler before the American’s joined the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and it serves up many examples of individual, everyday bravery that make one wonder if, were we to be thrown into a similar situation, we would be so brave? At times, this book is genuinely and deeply moving, and I feel that these moments are what handed Willis the Hugo.
Unfortunately the book only occasionally reaches such heights, and after the first 250 odd pages, begins to drag rather horribly. Each of the characters go through exactly the same emotional journey, and end up constantly running through the possibilities of what could have happened. Whilst psychologically accurate, it does make the reader feel as if they have accidentally wandered into Beckett’s Watt. It’s a good, well observed story, but we don’t need it three times over, it gets really tedious. The book had to be long to do its subject matter justice, but unfortunately the ‘what if’s’ take over the readers attention. I think this book would have been much better with a bit of judicious editing. Or perhaps a lot of judicious editing. There’s a true diamond here, but it seems that nobody has bothered to cut it properly yet. I look forward to the sequel, released in October, as hopefully Willis will have got this Beckettian repetition out of her system.