Doomsday Book

Connie Willis
Doomsday Book Cover

Doomsday Book

Salmon Wellington

This is a wonderful (terribly funny, terribly sad) book that succeeds despite some clunky pacing. It tells the story of a young woman sent back in time to medieval England alongside a parallel story of unfortunate events unfolding in the near-future Oxford she leaves behind. Its most amazing achievement is being able to tell a horribly depressing story while maintaining an optimistic sense of humor. That the book does this without discounting its sense of tragedy or any marked tonal conflicts really shows how well it was written.

Its main flaws are in its story progression and choice of plot devices. With some tightening of the plot, the book could have lost up to one-third of the near-future Oxford story and one-fourth of the medieval story and been much more effective. Willis deploys delaying tactics far too often--someone misses a call or misunderstands someone and misses out on something you will have figured out several chapters back. Then she drags the missed connection out for another fifty to one hundred pages. This hurts the book but by no means dooms it.

The main characters are mostly well-drawn and engaging. They are both curiously devoid of a past--I have not figured out if this is intentional or not. The book contains some wonderfully written, very funny children in both time periods. The story's antagonists are uninteresting but this ends up being unimportant.

I would highly recommend Doomsday Book despite its flaws, especially if you have any interest in medieval historical fiction or time travel. While it is quite funny, be prepared for some seriously depressing reading. This is a powerful book that you will be thinking about for some time. It is not haunting but exhausting--and I say that as the highest praise.