Blackout: History! War! Time travel!

       

So I loved *Blackout*. Not only for the fact that its set in WW2 (is it weird to have an immediate attraction to a WW2 novel? probably.) and not only because it features historians and historical fiction and not only because it’s about time travel and the risks therein. No, I also loved *Blackout*  for its masterful use of form to play with the readers’ expectations and sympathies.

The book opens with a split chronology as the reader moves between 2060 and the Blitz. In 2060 the time traveling historians are busy planning their research trips: finding period costumes, implanting period knowledge (the dates of bombings, available technology, current cultural references) and language (American accents), determining a back story, a job and necessary papers. Throughout these sections the reader is presented with bits of information from the third person omniscient narrator that suggest all is not well with the technology of time travel; however, the historians themselves remain entirely oblivious to the potential hazards of their upcoming trips.

Meanwhile, the Blitz chapters introduce us to our three protagonists – Polly, posing as a nanny for evacuee children; Merope, posing as a shopgirl on Oxford street; and Mike, posing as an American reporter covering the evacuation at Dunkirk.

SPOILER ALERT**

As the reader becomes familiar with the general pattern of chapters – 2060, WW2, WW2, 2060, WW2, WW2, 2060, 2060, WW2 etc. –  the reader comes to expect a necessary “return” to 2060 as inherent in the structure of the book itself. So when the three characters find themselves *stuck* in their respective WW2 temporal-spatial locations and unable to access the “Drop” that is meant to return them to their own time, the reader is jarred right along with the characters as the reader too, finds herself without access to 2060. The chapters narrating this period simply stop, allowing the reader to feel the same disorientation, anxiety and bewilderment as the characters: what *has* happened to 2060? And we don’t find out! The narrative ends without letting the characters OR the reader return to 2060 and so we are all left puzzling whether the course of history has been changed such that time travel *no longer exists* or whether their colleagues in 2060 have met some unfortunate end or whether they have simply been “lost” by their 2060 protectors.

And perhaps this will be my frustration with the novel – even if it’s a necessary frustration in order for the brilliance of the book to be realized – I would have liked the book to resolve these questions. There’s a second part to this series – All Clear – where presumably the conflict is resolved or at least further climaxed, but for this reader I could have done just as well with a serious division between the two parts but the amalgamation of the two parts in one text. I suppose I’m just not a fan of the deliberate cliff hanger that requires seeking out the next book. I can easily borrow it from the library or download it, but wouldn’t it be just as easy to package it as one narrative in the first place?

Small complaint for an otherwise fascinating book that does terrific work highlighting the complexities and possibilities of formal play.

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery

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