Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

By Ekta R. Garg

January 30, 2012

Rated: Bookmark it!

Author Connie Willis offers readers an enthralling adventure in Doomsday Book, first published in 1992.  Although she wrote in the early 1990s, Willis offered readers some interesting insights to the future including a Skype-like telephone service.  Most intriguing, though, is her offering of this time travel tale that will keep readers awake late at nights and harboring anxiety bordering on panic for heroine Kivrin.

In 2054 people engage in time travel to conduct field research on various time periods in history.  Kivrin, an enthusiastic Oxford student, has convinced her reluctant mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, to let her travel back to 1320 from future England to study the Middle Ages.  Mr. Dunworthy worries endlessly about Kivrin’s expedition, and the egoistic faculty member in charge of executing it only compounds Mr. Dunworthy’s concerns.  All the while Kivrin does what she can to allay Mr. Dunworthy’s fears; she’s studied all available information about the early fourteenth century—everything from language to inventing an alias for herself.  She has received all the necessary inoculations, and because more than 20 years have passed since anyone in England has gotten even a common cold Mr. Dunworthy knows, intellectually, that he shouldn’t worry.  But he does.

And when things begin to go wrong immediately after Kivrin is sent to 1320, Mr. Dunworthy finds his fears justified.  The technician running the equipment the day of Kivrin’s travel suddenly collapses with a mysterious illness, and soon enough others all over London have contracted the illness.  Mr. Dunworthy spends his time between helping good friend Dr. Mary Ahrens take care of the patients and trying to get access to the lab where Kivrin’s expedition began.  Several events prevent Mr. Dunworthy from returning to the lab, despite his best efforts.

Meanwhile Kivrin has reached the fourteenth century and immediately falls ill herself.  A family in a local village nurses her back to health, and while she is delighted that she gets the opportunity to interact with the population Kivrin can’t help shake the feeling that something doesn’t make sense.  For one thing many of her preparations are rendered useless: the fourteenth-century dialect she studied is all wrong; the clothes she thought would fit mark her from afar as a foreigner; and her sudden illness followed by her “miraculous” recovery (owing to the sophisticated inoculations in her system) make some of the contemporaries eye her warily.  Who heals so quickly from an illness in the fourteenth century?

Willis’ two parallel stories suddenly collide in the most frightening way, and the “big reveal” of the book will make readers gasp.  As Mr. Dunworthy and Kivrin begin working towards the same goal—getting Kivrin home safe and sound—both realize their tasks are much harder than anyone could have ever realized.

Despite being American Willis captures British dry wit like one of the locals, and even in the midst of the most trying situations her characters will make readers smile (keep a lookout, in particular, for William Gaddson and his many “encounters.”)  She has that uncanny ability to drive right to the heart of a situation, find the most tender emotion, and bring that to the fore while keeping the rest of the story in perspective.

Personally this is one of my most favorite books, and I have read it several times.  The book jacket information states that Willis spent five years writing it, and her love, passion, and thoroughness in research shine through.  I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys almost any genre because even though Doomsday Book may be classified as “science fiction,” it really could fit in so many other genres.  But more than traditional genres, it fits into the most important one: that of being a good book.  And that’s what counts most.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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