The length of this book daunted me. There are 594 pages in the edition I’d picked up from the library. And this was my first book by Willis. Was I being too ambitious? Shouldn’t I have just picked up a shorter one? I suppose that’s why I left it to the end.
But in the end, my question was, why hadn’t I picked up anything by Connie Willis sooner? Passage was such an absorbing read. Every time I put it down, it was with such reluctance.
Let’s start with the synopsis, shall we? It’s a book about NDEs or near-death experiences. Joanna Lander is a researcher investigating these NDEs at Mercy General. Dr Lander is talked into working with Dr Richard Wright, a neurologist, on a project that puts volunteers under to map their brain scans. It isn’t easy finding volunteers who haven’t already been ‘contaminated’ by Maurice Mandrake, who writes popular books about the afterlife and tends to influence his interviewees. I don’t really want to say more about the plot though, as that might spoil your fun.
Hmm…. now that doesn’t sound like a very exciting synopsis does it? But I found it quite fascinating, like piecing together a puzzle. You know that feeling that you might get sometimes when something feels familiar, it might be an object, or someone’s words, a smell… it’s familiar, you know it, but you can’t put your finger on it. That’s kind of what Joanna is trying to chase down. She draws on her memories, from what knowledge she can remember. And this was further illustrated by Willis’ use of the hospital’s maze of corridors, walkways, stairways, which Dr Wright and Joanna are always ducking into and hiding out at to avoid the annoying (but amusing) Mandrake, and getting lost and being uncontactable.
Willis has definitely created a set of very compelling characters here. Joanna, Dr Wright, and especially young Maisie, who is a hospital regular thanks to a heart condition, and is fascinated with disasters like the Hindenberg. However, I did feel like some scenes were used to prolong the suspense, although they were still very effectively written.
In the end, Passage was a completely satisfying read. There were multiple storylines, characters to like, characters to detest, all sorts of fascinating information both scientific and historical to pick up on… the pages whizzed by faster than I expected them to. It was… it was…