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Alissa

Alissa

Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis I approached this book with a puntual idea in mind. I wanted to read about time travel in the 14th century, but I thought to find more action. Actually I wasn't disappointed, at all, I liked it and the epidemic theme and all the parallelism between the events unfolding in the present and the foreknown troubled times of the past. The main characters are likeable, particularly Mr. Dunworthy, time traveler Kivrin's mentor and accomplished scholar, and Dr. Mary, the no-nonsense and hardworking doctor overseeing the drop in the past.
In my opinion the most rounded characters are from the present timeline, while those in the 1300's are not so much stereotyped as "flat", we perceive them sorely thru Kivrin's historian point of view, so it's probably on purpose and coherent, but I picked this book for the middle-ages part, so I guess I wanted more from it.
A lot of symbolism is around (the bells for one -> the Americans, the bracelet, the villages belfries' bells) and the book gets very psychological and inward-looking but at the same time quickens its pace in the second half, toward the denouement. Complex themes like religion (of course), morality and salvation are also around.
The parts set in the present are unnerving at times, I got frustrated with all the landline phone-related misunderstandings and to and fro (and why there are no mobiles in 2054?); the assortment of oddball secondary characters whose level of egoism is sickening an gets worse in the contingency of the epidemic, to the border of preposterousness; the characters knack for fainting/getting into confusional state/hanging up an hairbreadth apart from delivering vital information....
Probably all of this is on purpose on the author's part to convey a sense of absurdity and powerlessness, to show how men and children haven't changed so much from the middle-ages to today when confronted with unyielding disasters: when pressed, when despairing humans reactions are stronger, instinctive. There are those who risk everything with complete abandon to save others and those who think about themselves and their interests first and foremost, and those in-between, who may even change through the ordeal, or those who approach dangers and doom with oblivious attitude, or detachment (like Colin and Agnes, the children, or William the libertine). It's all about people (after all the title states it clearly, the Domesday Book of 1086 is about people, as Kivrin's namesake record).
Surely the introspection is nice, and I was satisfied with how the author moved the threads into convergency, but again, I dreaded each time a chapter opened in the present timeline, each time there was a landline phone, a gobstopper or a Ms G. bible reading scene in play (or other little pseudo-comical quirks). It was too repetitive and annoying.
I agree with the general opinion of most other reviewers, this book has good prose, it looks well researched, the author gives us very credible medieval contemps and a coherent situation, the idea behind the tale is intriguing but there are evident flaws and a need for editing, particularly in the present day section.