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by Connie Willis
Published by Bantam Books, 2001
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade
Connie Willis returns, using her mordant wit to poke fun at the foibles of bureaucracy and the self-important (or just plain odd), while trying to deal with important issues at the same time. This time out, the protagonist is Joanna Lander, a psychologist researching Near Death Experiences (and trying desparately to get to patients who have "coded" before a self-appointed NDE "expert" can implant them with false memories with his leading questions.) She meets up with Richard Wright, who has found a way to duplicate NDEs (without actually coming to the verge of death) with a new drug. They would make the perfect team, if they could ever run the gauntlet of obstacles in the way of getting together.
I love Willis' observational style of humour, pointing out the absurdities of everyday life. (In this case, the everyday life of a hospital an environment with which I have become all too familiar recently and her observations, as usual, are bang on target.) While the general tone is similar to To Say Nothing of the Dog (if not quite so silly), the theme should warn you that, well, characters you come to care about are going to die. (Not as many as in Doomsday Book, of course, but this definitely isn't a comedy, although there are many comic moments scattered through it.)
Christians, of course, are going to be very interested in this work, simply because of the subject matter. The question is whether Willis will, like so many of the popular writers on NDEs, lead people to expect a blissful afterlife filled with love and happiness, and in direct repudiation of Christian teaching devoid of any sort of judgement. For me to answer that question would entail giving away the plot almost in its entirety, so I will content myself with saying that Willis doesn't come to the kind of conclusion which anybody would expect.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, and if I didn't laugh quite so hard (or cry quite so much) as with her earlier works, I should still say that Willis is very, very good. This tale has a lot of laughs, some tears, and some meditation on the human condition. You'd have to be extremely lucky to find a worthier book on most bookstore shelves these days. (February, 2005)
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