Blackout and All Clear

Blackout and All Clear, by Connie Willis

Instead of finishing off my official TBR challenge list, I dived into Connie Willis' gigantic and sprawling time-travel epic story of World War II, the double-volume Blackout and All Clear.  Each is a good 600 pages long, so it could easily have been a quartet!

In 2060 Oxford, several historians are preparing to jump around in World War II, observing various aspects of the war.  Merope, alias Eileen, is working with evacuated children in the countryside.  Polly goes to 1940 to observe the London Blitz.  And Michael will be Mike, an American reporter in Dover who just happens to see the home end of the evacuation of Dunkirk.    Other historians have plans too, and Colin, age 17, keeps hoping to go along even though he isn't even an Oxford student yet.

Things go very pear-shaped right away for the three historians; they arrive just a bit off-target, and their drops stop working.  Eileen vastly overstays her time when the evacuees all get measles and are quarantined for weeks on end; Polly's drop is promptly covered in bomb debris; and Mike ends up at Dunkirk itself.  And there are other stories popping up: Ernest is doing intelligence work meant to mislead the Germans; somebody is at V-E Day; and a young man is running around St. Paul's. 

Trapped in World War II, stranded in time, the historians worry that they've accidentally altered history.  What if the Germans win because Mike saved a soldier?  What if the timeline is collapsing and that's why they can't get home?

This story is incredibly complex (like history! like life!) and full of suspense.  You have to pay serious attention to who's who, which I didn't do well enough the first time I read this.  It's a bit of a deep dive, but it's such a wonderful story and Willis works so hard to pay homage to all the people who felt distinctly ordinary but who performed heroics daily, just by keeping on.


  1. I bought All Clear without realising that I needed to read Blackout first... oops. Now I need to go back and buy the first one, I just haven't got round to it.

    I DID really love Domesday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog though! Particularly the latter.

  2. Oh, me too! To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my all-time favorites.

  3. I loved both of these books. I read them in March and April of 2018. Also enjoyed the Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Not sure which I liked best, maybe To Say Nothing of the Dog.

  4. I've really been wanting to read these books, but they keep getting shoved to the bottom of my Mount TBR, since I don't own them. Perhaps I should try to read them this year. I don't suppose they count as historical mysteries? That would fit into one of my challenges.

  5. Well, there is certainly a mystery -- why are they trapped in WWII and is the time continuum going to break down? -- and there is a whole lot about Agatha Christie! There are clues. I mean, why not call it a historical mystery?

  6. Connie Willis is a fantastic story teller, and whilst I enjoyed these two books, I did feel they rambled all over the place. She tried to cover the whole of WW2 in England, but I found it disconcerting to time-jump from VE day to Dunkirk and then leap to D Day, etc. Also, I think her publishers made a dishonest decision to market this as two big separate books, when it is just one long continuous book. Blackout ends abruptly in mid-story, and continues in All Clear. You cannot read the second book first. It should have had a single title with volume one and volume two. I suppose this would have put some people off buying it, but again I think this shows she had enough material for at least four novels, which would have made a great series.

  7. Willis is certainly a rambler. I found it easier to handle this time around, but I just about couldn't deal with Passage. It could indeed have been a series...I think maybe that's not how her brain works? Who knows.

  8. I really enjoyed these, even when I was hopelessly lost in some of the plot elements.


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