When The Lights Go On Again

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world
And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above
A kiss won’t mean “goodbye” but “Hello to love”

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the ships will sail again all over the world
Then we’ll have time for things like wedding rings and free hearts will sing
When the lights go on again all over the world

I was too short in my original post about Connie Willis’ new novel, Blackout.  I wish to make amends.  Blackout is an excellent piece of art by a master craftsperson.  I enjoyed reading it immensely and recommend it to readers of all stripes.  The fact that I have read all of her major works and am a major fan should in no way impugn my recommendation. 

Her novel Blackout primarily revolves around three protagonists, all time traveling historians, who have chosen Britain in 1940 as their area of research.  They all “land” pretty much according to plan, but life, the story, devolves from there.  One historian is researching the evacuation from Dunkirk.  Another is researching the evacuation of children from London because of the Blitz.  The third historian is researching the effects of the Blitz on ordinary citizens.

Choosing Britain’s “Finest Hour” for material could lead to a story that is both dark and foreboding, but that is not Ms. Willis’ writing style.  She has always been able to infuse her stories with humor and this one is no different.  Her humor is in no small part derived from everyday situation that she captures so well.  Imagine trying to get to Dover, which is only twenty miles away and every form of conveyance conveniently appears and then leaves, all while you are off searching for it elsewhere.  She perfected this madcap chase sequencing in her previous novel, Passages.  Willis also finds opportunity for humor in the mischief of London’s two worst truants, who are evacuated to the stuck-up Lady Caroline’s manor house.  The class counterpoint here is especially funny considering that Lady Caroline has hand picked her evacuated children, to get “only the nicest ones”.  Or, imagine London’s greatest Shakespearian actor cajoled into putting on the latest bit of popular fluff, just to raise his shelter’s moral, the horror, the horror.

In her book and also in her interviews about it, Willis discusses the gulf that remains between her historians from the future and her 1940 contemporary characters, the contemps.  The historians know that Hitler won’t invade Britain, that the Battle of Britain will be won and that Germany will lose the war.  The contemps don’t know any of this.  The historians are doubly hobbled though; because they not only know what the contemps don’t they also know what they cannot even suspect.  At one point a frightened evacuated child asks after being teased by a bully, “Will the Germans sneak into this house tonight and kill me in my sleep?”  The historian can truthfully console this child with the answer no, all the while knowing that that same answer would be a lie to another child in Poland.

In interviews Ms. Willis describes her motivation for writing Blackout and its second half, All Clear, as rising out of the events of 9/11.  She describes herself as feeling very apocalyptic after that attack.  She felt under siege and saw parallels between World War II Britain and the United States post 9/11.  She had been working on a totally different story, a romantic comedy/road picture, modeled after the Crosby and Hope movies that involved Roswell and space aliens, but shelved it as being no longer appropriate.  She plans to pick this project up again after she finishes her Blackout/All Clear project.  We are now set to mark the ninth anniversary of September 11th.  The shock has faded, but also has this country’s sense of unity.  Part of that is attributable to Iraq, but time has also been a culprit.  In 1940, Britain was shocked by the multitude of German victories.  So much so that what was basically just a retreat after defeat became the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.  After 9/11 we also reveled in similar behavior.  In 1940 Britain had five more years of war ahead of it.  So far we have had nine.  We haven’t yet won the war begun on 9/11.  I will be interested to see how Connie Willis completes her project.

2 thoughts on “When The Lights Go On Again

  1. Completely off-topic.
    How about that Pujols!
    (Ashlan, Rey & Carl saw him in the minor leagues, and they said, “He stood out as a man among boys.”)

Leave a Reply