Top positive review
A Masterly Conclusion to the Story
on 10 November 2015
I began my review of the two books Blackout and All Clear over on the Blackout page. Here is my concluding ten-pennyworth...
The whole story here - both Blackout and All Clear combined - is to my mind about heroes, but not perhaps where you'd expected them. I came to that conclusion "watching" the characters get involved so intimately with the many problems that beset the Home Front during WWII. Eileen's courage and determination through the measles outbreak among evacuees in part one, far away as she was from the bombing of the Blitz. Polly's determination to save lives while driving an ambulance around the city as a FANY - under a different name - and her survival of the 29th December 1940. Both heartbreaking and breathtaking. Michael's trip to Bletchley Park, to a field of inflatable tanks, to Dunkirk and the D-Day landings and finally to Croydon and a printing-press disseminating misinformation to foil the Germans. And Colin, who loved a lady and simply would not give up until he'd won her over and saved the day. There was heroism aplenty among the civilians, living under such intolerable stress and strain, coping daily with the prospect of defeat or death. Connie Willis describes the Blitz in such compelling detail and with such clarity that you feel you were there, holding your breath as you ran past the next crumbling, fire-damaged building before it collapsed.
This may all sound depressing and dire, but it wasn't. There were lighter moments and thank goodness for Alf and Binnie! You read about them in Blackout, well here they are again paying a more pivotal role in the conclusion than you would probably have imagined. They were a wonderful pair, proving more useful to the story than you might have expected as they and Eileen became more close-knit. A family. And then there's Agatha Christie ...
As in the author's previous time-travel stories Mr Dunworthy is the man in charge of the historians adventures, but when he makes an appearance here in the Blitz - a failed attempt to rescue everybody - it shows that even he doesn't understand what effects all these people travelling back in time has been having, will have. Or won't. Basically he is rescued by his charges. They have suffered more than he has and made it through, so it takes one of them to see answers and conclusions he hasn't been able to.
It's hard to be negative about a story that has enthralled and kept me reading early till late, hating to put either book down, but I think I agree the constant hand-wringing about cause and effect was over-done, and sometimes stalled the story. But I loved the visuals evoked by clever and careful description, I felt the emotion of a population at war but not at the front line, suffering all the same. The reality is so many people's stories were never told, their lives unrecorded and silent to history, yet here they are, alive and contributing to the modern world we know. You have to love them all.
It is very poignant that the author suggests how no one who hasn't lived through the previous years of terror, deprivation, death and destruction could understand the sheer jubilation that surrounded VE day. An incredibly valid point and one that poses the question that even if time-travellers were able to voyage back to these landmark events in history, would they truly, ever be able to fully understand them?
And throughout the tale we have tantalising glimpses at another story, one which might explain the eventual destruction of St Pauls the historians of Oxford in 2060 know all about.
A remarkable story, brilliantly told.