Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

 After reading The Best of Connie Willis and remembering how much I'd loved Doomsday Book when it first came out, I decided to read it again. Luckily, soon after that I found a copy at a library book sale. I'm glad I did--this book is one of the most moving, humanistic science fiction novels I've ever read. If anything, it was even better reading it a second time. As an adult I could relate more to Mr. Dunworthy, and being a mother made the chapters in Medieval England all the more poignant.

(Spoilers) In Doomsday Book, Willis depicts two completely different eras that share a common thread--a future Oxford where time travel is used to study history, and Medieval England in 1348, the year of the Great bubonic plague. Uniting these two world is Kivrin, an idealistic and determined young historian who visits one of the most deadly time periods in human history, against the advice of her worried mentor, Dunworthy. Yet, past nightmares aren't so far away. Even as Kivrin departs (supposedly for 1320, a far safer date than where she ends up), a deadly flu epidemic begins spreading in Oxford, preventing Mr. Dunworthy and the other history faculty from realizing that there's been a terrible error in the dates until far too late.
What makes this book work is its profound sense of humanity. Medieval England is far more filthy than Kivrin expected, and thanks to the plague, far more dangerous. But the people she meets there treat her with kindness and compassion, and she learns to love them. The characters are vividly drawn, from the energetic and mischievous child Agnes, to her beleaguered young mother, to their simple, compassionate, and deeply devout village priest. Willis depicts the deep cultural differences of the Middles Ages while still reflecting on the universal struggles, emotions, and experiences that bind us all together, no matter what time period. The plague is one of the great tragedies of history, and Willis' Doomsday Book expresses its terrible loss.

In short, this is a masterpiece of science fiction with a rich vein of historical fiction running through it. I'd recommend it to anyone--it's the type of powerful, moving story that I think we all could fall in love with. 


  1. See, now if you'd said to me "read this, is't a science fiction novel" I would have told you to get lost. But actually, it sounds quite interesting! I might add it to my pile!
    Thanks for joining in with the Weekend Blog Hop!

  2. You're welcome! It's an incredible book, and I bet you'll love it. I've enjoyed participating in the weekend blog hop!