Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
We had a book club discussion over The Doomsday Book on June 1. I finished reading this book on May 31 and was delighted I finished in time. That should give you a sense of how backlogged my reviews are…yikes. I don’t have too much more to say from the initial discussion, so I’ll keep this review short and move on to the next one.
The premise of this book is that a young scholar is excited about the prospect of time travelling to the Middle Ages over Christmas and, ignoring her mentor’s warnings, receives inoculations and a translator chip to travel to the 1320s. Yet she finds herself accidentally landing in 1348, during the Black Plague, a dangerous time in England. At the same time, a mysterious virus lands in London and congests the city with fear and added danger.
We’ve discussed at length what did and what didn’t work for us, and ultimately, my review is mixed. Here’s what worked for me:
*The time travel—hearing how Kivrin was confused by the language and customs was deeply interesting and made me think how a “simple” difference of 28 years is actually an entire generation and could be disorienting if you didn’t know the culture at all.
*Descriptions of the Plague—I knew it was bad, but reading it in front of you was another experience entirely. I was forced to think about entire villages being decimated by disease, as well as the mere act of survival stripped down to getting enough water or food or basic treatment. It’s amazing how my own privilege can blind me.
*Father Roche—sigh. Father Roche was a complex and interesting character, one who never let crisis or corruption get in the way of his compassion and faith. He reminded me so much of Emilio Sandoz from Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Oh, my heart.
And now for what didn’t work:
*The writing and construction of the plot—I felt that Willis could have trimmed about 150-200 pages, and nothing would have been lost from the main story. That’s not a good thing.
*The endless searching for people—I realize that cell phones hadn’t been invented yet, but I felt that a good deal of the “modern” storyline was spent in futile phone calls and near-misses, and that just got frustrating.
*Little distracting details that took away from the main storyline—for me, it was the incessant need of the cow to be milked. I understand that it showed the day-to-day needs of life in the Middle Ages, but the timing of the cow’s appearance felt like there was an attempt at comedic relief that felt inappropriate and ill-timed. I kept getting pulled out of the story.
I’m really glad I read this book, and I enjoyed the book club discussion. I look forward to reading our next read in September!