Review of “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

There are two settings in this book: the Oxford University History Department in the year 2054, and Medieval England in 1348.


In 2054, the history department at Oxford is using time travel to amend and correct historical records, and so it allows Kivrin, a young woman studying history, to go back to 1320 for research. Unfortunately, an error drops her 28 years later, right into the time period of the Bubonic Plague.

The book alternates between 2054 and 1348 as the historians try to get Kivrin back, and as Kivrin fights for her life. As we get to know the people with whom Kivrin stays in 1348 and learn to care about them, we live through the Plague as vividly and poignantly as she does. And we live through Kivrin’s terror that she may never get back.

Connie Willis is a remarkable author for several reasons. One is that she so thoroughly researches her work that this account of Medieval England is as extensive and accurate as any you will get in any academic study. The second is that books by Willis focus extensively on miscommunications – sentences only half spoken, or misunderstood, or never conveyed, or conveyed too late, or lost in dreams. The tragic as well as comedic consequences of not communicating well are a recurring theme in her work and serve to provide dramatic tension as well as sociological commentary.

This book is classified as scifi rather than historical fiction, but it could certainly be well-suited in either category.

Note: A more extensive review of this book, in which I compare it to the book Kristin Lavransdatter, is here. I should also mention this is one of my favorite books of all time.

Published by Spectra, 1992, and reissued numerous times.


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4 Responses to Review of “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

  1. Sandy says:

    Ack! You and Alyce and Nymeth! Actually, I did order this book from the library, and even though it is older, I am several people in line for it. I can’t wait for it to show up!

  2. zibilee says:

    This is one of my favorite books of all time and I am so glad that you loved it. I think it’s actually time for a reread on this one! Great review!

  3. Stephanie says:

    I am really looking forward to this novel. Oddly enough, I’d neevr heard of this author until I happened upon Blackout in the library a few months ago.

  4. Steph says:

    I have this one on my ereader and am really looking forward to reading it at some point… I generally don’t dig historical fiction, but I think I’ll make an exception for this one!

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