All Clear, by Connie Willis, for this Wednesday's Timeslip Tuesday

I started reading All Clear, by Connie Willis (2010) Monday morning...but it's a long book, and I didn't finish till Tuesday night, too late to make my Tuesday Timeslip deadline....so here it is today!

All Clear is the second half of a time travel saga that began with Blackout (my review), and the two need to be read back to back. It picks up right where the first book ended (anyone who hasn't read Blackout will be completely lost), with three historians from the 2060s stranded in World War II London. Polly, Eileen, and Mike are growing increasingly desperate--their paths back to the future are blocked, and no-one seems to be coming back in time to save them. For all three, every day in the past brings dangers from the blitz, and the worry that they will somehow do something that will change the course of history. But for Polly in particular, there is a greater danger. She had already gone back in time to observe the celebrations of VE day...and to be there again will kill her.

Much of the story involves the desperate circumstance of London in the blitz, a frenetic background for the three historians efforts to find a way home. Interspersed are flashes from Polly's future trip a few years after the blitz, along with the adventures of of a young man named Ernest, up in Scotland in 1944, trying to fool the Nazis into thinking the allied invasion of France will take place anywhere but Normandy. It's a busy, busy series of events and excitements, as bombs fall, buildings burn, and lives are saved, and lost. Small acts of courage abound, as do desperate acts of bravery, and there was almost too much Happening, in a fates conspiring against the central characters way, for me to enjoy large sections of the story.

Yet through all this chaos I had faith (having read all her other books) that Willis knew exactly what she was doing, and I was rewarded. As the book races towards its conclusion, the emotional intensity keeps ratcheting upward...and it became utterly un-put-downable and profoundly moving. The implications of time travel, the ramifications of the actions of ordinary people in horrible situations, and the question of what constitutes heroism all come together at the end to make this much, much more than an interesting look at World War II (although it is that).

Although this didn't, for me, have quite the devastating emotional punch those of Willis' novels that effected me most profoundly (Lincoln's Dreams and Passage), because I do think that some of the frenetic action could have been pruned somewhat (1,168 pages, the combined total of the two books, is rather a lot), it is still an incredibly powerful story, masterfully told.

Here's a review of both books at The Children's War.


  1. I was having a discussion about the length of this story with someone on Goodreads. We both also felt some of it could have been pruned but neither of us could come up with something we would cut. And if we couldn't come up with what we would want to see go, it must be that much harder for Connie Willis. I loved these books for all the history that was depicted so well in them. And Colin. Despite the limited time his character was in the story, I thought he was pretty awesome too.

  2. For me, it was so excruciatingly emotional that I was going on crying jags at the mere THOUGHT of certain parts for the next day and a half. I would think of Dunkirk, or Eileen, or Ernest and start bawling.

  3. I agree, a little pruning would have been good. Yet, on the whole I wasn't at all disappointed and oddly enough, like the Harry Potter books, I know I will reread Blackout and All Clear again in about a year or so.

  4. I'm sorry - I forgot to thank you for the mention.

  5. "All Clear" picks up the suspense and the fascinating details of history. The books are bursting full of interesting WWII history and little-known data points. Many times the story would mention something that I was unfamiliar with (e.g., Ultra, Anderson shelters, V1 and V2 "tipping") causing me to do independent research on the topics; THAT is historical fiction at its best!


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