"By noon Michael and Merope still hadn't returned from Stepney, and Polly was beginning to get really worried. Stepney was less than an hour away by train. There was no way it could take Merope and Michael — correction, Eileen and Mike; she had to remember to call them by their cover names — no way it could take them six hours to go fetch Eileen's belongings from Mrs. Willett's and come back to Oxford Street. What if there'd been a raid and something had happened to them? The East End was the most dangerous part of London."That is definitely a beginning that pulls me in. However, now that I have this book checked out of the library, I see that it's the second of two volumes that make one novel. Yes, that's what it says. One novel. I can't start in the middle. The first volume — Blackout — is available, and there's even a copy in my branch of the library system. However, there's a problem. Blackout has 491 pages, and All Clear has 641 pages. Yes, I can do the math!
491 + 641 = 1,132 pagesReading 491 pages, once I get volume one, would take a lot of time. Then reading the second volume would take another long time. There's no way I can finish this "book number two" before it's due, so I'm taking this hefty volume back today. I'll read it eventually, but I am currently in the middle of reading five other books. Before I take it back, though, I can see you (and I) want to know more. Here's a summary:
In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060 — the setting for several of her most celebrated works — and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.As you can see, that summary from the dustjacket doesn't really say a thing about All Clear. Clearly (pun intended), I must first read Blackout in order to know what's going on. I hope to get back to these books, one of these days, but the thought of 1,132 pages overwhelms me right now.
Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory — but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.
Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own — to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.
Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet — a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.
Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. Click here for today's Mister Linky.