Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a difficult book to review for me. Overall, I liked Doomsday Book. I felt that the novel gave a very genuine portrayal of life in the Middle Ages and looked hard at the meaning of suffering. However, it was not without a few flaws.
Early on, the thing that bothered me the most was simply the technology. Doomsday Book was published in 1992, but takes place in the future, 2050s I believe. A great deal of the plot involves the inability of characters to communicate with each other. For whatever reason, Connie Willis decided that people would still rely on home phones, albeit phones with screens, and completely disregarded cell phones or the Internet.
Now, if the novel was written before either of those were invented, I could overlook their absences, but it wasn’t. The most frustrating part was that cell phones would have quite literally made huge chunks of the novel completely irrelevant. That was hard to get past, but I struggled on, and once I did, I found the novel considerably more enjoyable.
The other major problem I had was simply that the novel was too long. Willis emphasized the communication problems in the “present day” story arc to the point where it was almost ridiculous. The Middle Ages story arc was a slow build. It must have been at least halfway through the novel before that story arc really got interesting. I honestly think I would have enjoyed the novel a lot more if it was 200 or 300 pages shorter…there was just so much repetition and minutiae to wade through.
But once things got going, it was really good. I really can’t get over how much despair and suffering the characters went through–it got pretty bleak at times.
I also liked the historical factoids quite well. I don’t know that every fact was accurate, but Willis seems have done a very good job researching the time period and I felt like I learned a lot.
Overall, I gave the novel 3 stars, because, even though I liked it overall, there were some aspects that made me very frustrated, to the point where I took a break from the novel for a few weeks.
If you have read other works by Connie Willis and enjoyed them, you’ll like this (and vice versa). I read To Say Nothing of the Dog a few years ago and I had a lot of the same reactions. If you’ve never read Willis before, then keep an open mind and you might enjoy it.
Originally posted at Goodreads.com.