Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: review of Blackout and All Clear; The Controversial Giving Tree

The Anonymous Historian and I have been playing phone tag since she returned from Paris so I haven't been able to get the "Can you believe when..." and "I knew that she..." stuff out of my system, so I hope the review below won't contain any spoilers.

BlackoutThe two-part book Blackout and All Clear concerns a group of time traveling historians, part of the same group of Oxford historians Connie Willis has introduced before. This time, they are in London during the Blitz--not the safest place to be. The anxiety level of the protagonists is high throughout the latter half of the first book and the first half of the second book, almost to the point where it was annoying. But then again, they were getting bombed every night, which would set anyone on edge, time-traveling woes or no.

All ClearThe thing that was most powerful about this book was the feeling that you got of what it might be like to live through the Blitz. The constant uncertainty, the constant lack of sleep, the people you know getting hurt or killed. You also got a much better understanding of how many people were part of the war effort in one way or another. One of the historians is unhappy to be assigned to a theatrical group as part of her national service, but comes to see how this, too, was part of getting through the war. Another historian has come to study heroism, thinking it would be at Dunkirk. Instead he finds it...everywhere, and in the smallest things. A third historian, originally placed with child evacuees, comes to see even her incorrigible charges, the horrible Hodbins, have a role to play.

Despite their length, the books are incredibly well plotted. It's a very lean 1,100 page novel and a total page turner. I lost a lot of sleep reading way too late at night.

It was also simply fun to see familiar names, places, and events seen through different eyes. Alan Turing almost hits one of the historians while biking recklessly to Bletchley Park. The Queen of England, General Patton--and his dog--all make an appearance.

But mostly this is about all the people who won the war through their day to day efforts, and all the small events upon which history turned. In her acknowledgments, Willis thanks "the marvelous group of ladies who were at the Imperial War Museum the day I was there doing research on the Blitz--women who, it turned out, had all been rescue workers and ambulance drivers and air-raid wardens during the Blitz, and who told me story after story that proved invaluable to the book and to my understanding of the bravery, determination, and humor of the British people as they faced down Hitler." These books are dedicated to them, and are a worthy paean.


In other book news, Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk posted a sweet entry about his favorite book The Giving Tree. Little did he know how many of us hate-- HATE with a white hot passion -- The Giving Tree, so much so that he ultimately had to close the comments.

What fascinates me is how wide the commentary on The Giving Tree runs. I thought this collection of brief responses to The Giving Tree captured the complexity of thought very well.

So what's your take on The Giving Tree? Tale of grace and generosity? Of environmental degredation? Of the subjugation of women? Love it? Hate it? I am now supremely curious to hear how other people hear this.


Anonymous said...

The Anonymous Historian confesses to be so sleepy that she can not have a coherent conversation about anything at all - but she looks forward to carrying on at great length about these long novels once she is awake again.

She also reports that she has two copies of The Giving Tree, that each was a gift from a very different person at a very different time in her life, that she has come to have some deep ambivalence about the story that it tells, but that she once liked it enough to give it as a gift herself. Go figure.

Lorin said...

I used to not think twice about the Giving Tree, but since the unhealthy relationship at its heart was pointed out to me, I've disliked it. My husband disagrees, I think.

Canada said...

Blackout" is (with "All Clear") a two-part novel by Connie Willis. In the novel, a group of time-travelling historians become stranded in London during the Blitz of World War II, living through episodes such as the bombing of St Paul's Cathedral.

The author has described the novel as being about "Dunkirk and ration books and D-Day and V-1 rockets, about tube shelters and Bletchley Park and gas masks and stirrup pumps and Christmas pantomimes and cows and crossword puzzles and the deception campaign" and particularly about all the unacknowledged heroes who "did their bit" to save the world. Those heroes included many women and men on the "home front," such as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and the "atta girls," who acted as wartime transport pilots.