If it turns out that I have already read the best books I'm going to read all year, I can live with that. Connie Willis' twinset of Blackout and All Clear are among the most wonderful books I have ever read in my life. Perhaps I exaggerate, perhaps I am still in the spell of these books about time travelers caught in the Battle of Britain, or perhaps these books are full of well-rounded characters, a vivid sense of the time and place, and a palpable overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. If you have never read a science fiction novel in your life but have thought you might like to read one some time, these two novels are a wonderful gateway - mainly because the science of time travel is kept mostly in the background and is strictly a plot device that gets our well-informed characters into an important and pivotal moment in world history.
One of the points that these books make is that we are timebound creatures who simply do not know how the big picture is going to work out, and we certainly don't know how our individual actions fit into the larger narrative around us. The people in London during the Blitz didn't know if they would survive as individuals, and they didn't know if their country would survive. They did know that if the nation didn't survive, that the world would be a much worse place; they were holding the line against one of the greatest evils in human history. There is a moment during the VE celebration where one of our time travelers comes across a middle-aged man sobbing profusely right after the sounding of the final all-clear siren. She asks him what's wrong, and he says, "That's the most beautiful sound in the world." This set of books shows in exhaustive detail what lies behind that statement.
I have some minor cavils with these books - there are some passages that would have benefited from more editing - when I would start saying, "Okay, dark room, filled with half-seen dangers, got that. Please move along." I also very much wanted the book to last about 10 more pages, but then about what would I have dreamed if the author had done that work? One more note: I finished the first book, screamed, and ran upstairs to grab the second book. Seriously, have both books on hand when you start the first one. I started reading Friday morning, Dec. 31, went off to a wedding, came home and read into the evening. On Saturday, after church and a walk, I read all afternoon (I am the reason that the University of Michigan lost its bowl game - they were winning until I got back from my walk, and then I sat in the same room as the television - sorry!). On Sunday, after church and a walk, I again read all afternoon (and the Detroit Lions won their game - go figure). I read all Monday morning until I went to work, then spent the evening reading. In other words, about a thousand pages over a long weekend; it's fun to do that once in a while!
During the holiday break, we saw The King's Speech, and while it's not the best movie I saw in 2010 - the 2006 movie The Lives of Others probably was - it was deeply engrossing, well written, and expertly acted (but, get real, I would watch Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush on a bare stage reading the phone directory at each other). It was kind of fun watching this movie in midweek and then reading the Connie Willis books a few days later - at one point, one of the children makes a crack about the "K-k-king's st-st-stammer" and is reproved by a nearby adult. Because of the movie, I had a context in which to more fully appreciate the moment. In other words, don't let the Oscar hype prevent you from seeing this lovely movie.