Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Reading for Pleasure: Doomsday Book

I am going to try this Reading for Pleasure Wednesdays thing because, it being summer, I’m actually doing some reading for pleasure…I don’t know if it’ll be a regular thing, but I’ll try...

Last week, while away at the cottage, I did some reading on the advice of a blog commenter, Loren. He had suggested that I read Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book. This was in response to my writing, at the end of my list of 100 things, that I had always wanted to time travel to medieval Europe. I had also expressed that I, er, don’t like science fiction.

What a great read. Yes, it is science fiction – set about fifty years from now, at the University of Oxford. But it is an age that seems remarkably like our own (although featuring what seem to be more conservative social mores…), which is probably why I could handle it – I don’t like the extreme techno-futurity of many science fiction futures, which tend to feel cold and alien to me. In this Oxford, historians research their eras by traveling back in time to them…Historians, does this not sound positively to die for?

So we have a young woman traveling back to fourteenth-century Oxfordshire (so like the most inspirational book New Kid details today!)…She has been sent to the wrong time, though, and there is a parallel narrative set in the Oxford of the future, where her advisors are trying to locate her and bring her back. The two narratives mirror each other in some interesting ways that I don’t want to say too much about, for fear of ruining surprises. Suffice it to say that the dovetailing themes of the narratives have a satisfying relevance to contemporary social panics and anxieties.

There was so much to like about this novel. The plot was gripping – so gripping that my need to press on with it cut into the work I had brought with me to the cottage. It wasn’t just plot-driven, though; the characters were richly drawn. There was also an emotional resonance in the time-traveling character’s relationship with the people she gets to know in the Middle Ages – it seemed to say something about the possibility of connecting with people across our alienation from them.

Most of all, though, it was really just kind of a high to see, detailed there for me, the medieval time travel fantasy I'd had since I was about eleven. It's one thing to find a character or a situation in literature that you really identify with...it's quite another to have your left-field fantasies unfolded for you in ways you're not creative enough to imagine. It was like a gift. Wow.

Thanks, Loren.

4 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Ooh, I LOVE this book! If you haven't read anything else by Connie Willis, I highly recommend her other stuff, especially _Lincoln's Dreams_.

medieval woman said...

This "Doomsday Book" looks great! - did you ever read Crichton's "Timeline" (not the godawful movie)? I actually liked the book a lot...

Hilaire said...

No - never heard of it. Thanks for the recommendation!

loren said...

There's this one line in Doomsday Book that I remember finding really clever, and it's just a brief thought in passing after Kirvin first arrives. She thinks something to the effect that this was a forest that could inspire dark fairy tales - deep and forbidding. Just a wonderful line, I thought.