Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Passage, by Connie Willis
780 pages
Published April 2001

This was my fourth Connie Willis book. (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book, Bellwether.) I really enjoy her writing. I'm starting to see some patterns that she uses, such as: annoying bureaucracies impeding progress, a certain annoying character that the protagonist has to avoid, scientific experiments, well-researched history, and a sense of urgency.

This book in particular is exceptionally good at creating a sense of urgency. In fact, it was so strong a sense that I couldn't resist reading at any possible moment. I read on the bus, during short little breaks at work, I even read while walking home from work one day. (Now that's challenging. Not sure I'll do that on a regular basis. It's especially challenging cause I wear distance glasses when I walk but I can't wear them when I read, so I was constantly having to remove my glasses to read and then put them on to see if any traffic was coming and what block I was on.)

Dr. Joanna Lauder is studying near-death experience phenomena. She interviews hospital patients who have clinically died and were revived. These patients frequently report having visions of tunnels, dead relatives, and a light. Although some are sure that this is a religious experience of the soul, Joanna wants to find the true reason behind it. She partners with another doctor, Richard Wright, to perform observed near-death experiences in the lab. Unlike the movie Flatliners (which they do refer to and scoff at in the book), the doctors do not induce death; rather they use certain hormones that are observed in the brain during near-death times to explore the effect of the hormones. As soon as the first volunteer reports on his induced experience, a race begins to find to the solution of the puzzling images he saw. Is it possible that they could find something that would help revive patients who have died? If so, can they find the solution in time to help a critically ill child that Joanna has befriended?

This book zooms between humor and pathos, it's fast-paced yet takes the time to explore minuscule details, uses modern medicine and technology yet has accurate depictions of historical events. At times I might almost call this a horror novel, other times it's an episode of your favorite medical drama, other times historical fiction. Very hard to pin down.

I recommend this book because even though I was a little disappointed by how it ended, I had such a blast while I was reading it that it was worth it. Would appeal to the scientifically-minded, problem solvers, or those who like medical mysteries.


Lien said...

I agree the ending of Passage needed some work. More precisely, it needed some heavy editing. It went on f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

rednib said...

Yeah, it was a bit long. I agree it could have been shorter, maybe a good 200 pages shorter even.