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Passage Paperback – 18 Jun 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Voyager (18 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007118252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007118250
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.6 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,286,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Most of us would rather not spend a lot of time contemplating death, but the characters in Connie Willis's novel Passage make a living at it. Joanna Lander is a medical researcher specialising in Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and how the brain constructs them. Her partner in this endeavour is Richard Wright, a single-minded scientist who induces NDEs in healthy people by injecting a compound that tricks the brain into thinking it's dying. Joanna and Richard team up and try to find test subjects whose ability to report their experiences objectively hasn't been wrecked by reading the books of pop-psychologist and hospital gadabout Maurice Mandrake. Mandrake has gained fame and fortune by convincing people that they can expect light, warmth, and welcoming loved ones once they die. Joanna and Richard try to quantify NDEs in more scientific terms, a frustrating exercise to say the least.

The brain cells started to die within moments of death. By the end of four to six minutes the damage was irreversible, and people brought back from death after that didn't talk about tunnels and life reviews. They didn't talk at all... But if the dying were facing annihilation, why didn't they say, "It's over!" or, "I'm shutting down"?... Why did they say, "It's beautiful over there," and, "I'm coming, Mother!"

When Joanna decides to become a test subject and see an NDE firsthand, she discovers that death is more and less than she expected. Readers are in for some shocks as Willis reveals the secrets and mysteries of the afterlife. Unfortunately, several running gags--the maze-like complexity of the hospital, Mandrake's oily sales pitch and a tiresomely talkative World War II veteran--threaten the pace of the story near the middle. But don't stop reading. We expect a lot from Willis because she's so good, and Passage's payoff is incredible--the ending will leave you breathless, and more than a little haunted. Passage masterfully blends tragedy, humour and fear in an unforgettable meditation on humanity and death. --Therese Littleton,


‘A compelling story on an irresistable theme … a profound and haunting parable’ LOCUS

‘Passage masterfully blends tragedy, humour and fear in an unforgettable mediation on humanity and death’ Amazon

‘Deep matters are discussed whilst a gripping story unwinds…a remarkably good and unsettling book…the ending alone should have you thinking for years to come.’ SFX

‘Once again, Willis has developed an idea that bears all the authority of a genuine insight: disturbingly plausible, compelling, intensely moving, and ultimately uplifting’ Kirkus

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Jun. 2001
Format: Paperback
Just when you think Willis can't get any better... After the harrowing scenes of her Doomsday Book, and the perfection of her eclectically comic To Say Nothing of the Dog, along comes Passage, a neat combination of hard science (an analysis of neurotransmitter activity during NDEs, or Near Death Experiences), romance (a reworking of the mutually respectful colleagues syndrome we encountered in Bellwether) history (the sinking of the Titanic), comedy, and philosophy. That Willis pulls this mix off is a tribute to that deft style of hers, based as it is on impeccable comic timing, elegant character sketches, and and a dignified approach to the tragic underpinning of life. This book doesn't shirk details of ER activity, fatal illness, loss, excruciatingly embalmed bodies, coma, murder, yet what sticks in the mind are the comic scenes - our heroine, Joanna, eternally in flight from the fiendishly drawn Mandrake, the charalatan spiritualist, or snacking from the impossibly plentiful pockets of her colleage Richard Wright (so nearly Mr Wrong) when she finds the hospital cafeteria shut yet again (a running gag throughout the novel). Or what we notice is the indomitable spirit demonstrated by characters such as the child heart patient, Maisie, whose ghoulish relish for events of mass destruction such as the Hindenberg disaster, and hatred of the 'Pollyanna Disney' approach to life makes her a refreshing juvenile lead in Willis's cast.
To reveal how Willis brings both the body and the mind of her book - both plot and thought - together in perfect symmetry would be to spoil the surprise. But literature, as one of Willis's characters remarks, is all about making connections, and this is a book in which you do, to paraphrase Forster, 'only connect'. It's a revelation. Try it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rod Williams on 12 Feb. 2003
Format: Paperback
Willis first came to my attention with her short story ‘The Sidon in The Mirror’ which I still continue to believe is one of the finest SF short stories ever written. Since then she has established herself as a consummate writer of diverse styles and subject matter.
Amongst other things she has an innate talent for the comic potential of situations which for the most part blends seamlessly into this mystery of science and metaphysics surrounding research into near-death experiences (NDEs).
Joanna Lander is a serious researcher into the phenomenon, based in Mercy Hospital where she is paged when patients have been revived in order to interview them about anything they may have experienced while they were technically ‘dead’.
She is hampered in her work by Mr Mandrake, a fellow investigator who ruins most of Joanna’s subjects by his leading questions and his determination to prove NDEs to be a spiritual/religious experience.
Lander teams up with ‘the gorgeous’ Dr Wright, who has found he can induce the effects of NDEs with the drug dithetamine.
With a shortage of reliable volunteers, Lander volunteers to undergo the NDE state herself and finds the experience troubling and familiar.
Joanna’s ‘trip’ takes her to what she believes to be the Titanic, a maze of stairways, corridors and elevators which is mirrored in the real world by the Hospital in which she works. Other parallels appear between the Hospital and the ship. The cafeteria seems always to be locked, like the restaurant she discovers on the ship, and obviously, some of the patients will die and some will live.
The hospital backdrop is peppered with vibrant interesting characters and the text and dialogue laced with Willis’ laconic wit.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Puddephatt on 11 Aug. 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've been a big fan of Connie Willis for some years, and although I still think Doomsday Book is her best so far, I think Passage comes a very close second.

The subject matter, near death experiences, is explored in a fascinating way. Unlike other reviewers, I thought the book raced along, and didn't find it overlong at all. Whilst the relationship between Joanna and Dr Wright could have been developed more, they were primarily portrayed as driven work obsessed professionals, who never found time for much of a social life. Maisie was wonderfully drawn - an extremely ill little girl - who was full of life and energy despite her dire prognosis.

There is a massive shock three quarters through the book which left me stunned - I never saw it coming, and don't think most other readers will either.

I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read despite the subject matter, and thought Connie Willis' humour counterbalanced the subject matter very well.

I would recommend this book to Sci Fi and non Sci Fi readers alike.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tony Watson VINE VOICE on 11 Jun. 2003
Format: Paperback
Connie Willis is one of those few writers who have the real knack of communicating intangible concepts via the written word. In a string of seemingly normal workday events, and almost in real time, she drops tantalising hints here and there, which may or may not impinge on the plot, giving one a sense of impending climax, like a gathering storm, with all the clues massing together to erupt in a welter of ... something, but you have no idea what it could possibly be, although there are plenty of possible scenarios hinted at.
This is one of those books that drags you along, reading faster and faster, til you have to stop for lack of mental breath. Then straight back into it to try and decipher exactly what the climax will be...
Using a similar scenario to 'Doomsday Book', Joanna is based in a hospital, researching Near Death Experience, the 'White Tunnel' syndrome. The obnoxious unscientific Dr. Mandrake, the von Daniken of NDE, generally reaches recovery patients first and runs roughshod over their memory of the event in order to promote his own dubious "There, that proves it!" theory, to the detriment of Joanna's research. Her researches are constantly stymied by him, plus half her subjects are loonies, and her lack of confrontation and control makes matters worse - you really want to shake her, telling her to get in command of the situation.The consequent lack of suitable subjects means she has to adopt an unconventional approach to record the experience better...
I feel as though I should be doing a deeper review to do justice to the book, but that would mean giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that this is one of the better sci-fi / metaphysical novels that merits a much wider audience (it helps if you are a film or literature buff) - kept me on tenterhooks for days.*****
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