The latest addition to Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel series, which includes "Doomsday Book" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog", "Blackout" and "All Clear" document the stories of historians Polly Churchill, Merope Ward, and Michael Davies. Polly, Merope, and Michael each travel back in time from Oxford in the year 2060 to different periods of World War II Britain to do research, but their lives intertwine when their means of returning to the future does not work, and they are stuck in the past trying to find a way back.
At a total of almost 1,200 pages, not a few readers have found the two novels too lengthy. Indeed, the story was intended to be one novel that was eventually split into two volumes. This means that before starting on "Blackout", one must be prepared to read "All Clear" afterwards, to be able to appreciate the story fully. The fact that the novels jump from one character to another and from one time period to the next also adds to the challenge.
Instead of bogging down the story, I think the novels are richer for the wealth of information they impart about the daily lives of ordinary people in wartime England. This is especially true for people like me whose education, by virtue of place of residence, focused on the Pacific Theater of the Second World War. Part of the appeal of the novels for me too, is trying to figure out the connections between the people who enter the lives of Polly and Merope and Michael, and the events that surround them. The story would be different, I think, were such details left out.
A good story for me is one which has characters who stay with me even after I've closed the book, and one that makes me think; in this case, about the complexities and paradoxes of time travel, which I will leave to readers brave enough and patient enough to tackle the novels, to figure out (to avoid spoilers). More than the above, "Blackout" and "All Clear" are Connie Willis' love letters to the men and women who lived and survived World War II; the soldiers who fought the war, and the loved ones they left behind.