Alyce (At Home With Books)'s Reviews > Passage

Passage by Connie Willis
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's review
May 10, 2012

really liked it

Passage isn’t an easy book to pigeon-hole when it comes to genre classification, in part because if I try to define it too clearly I will spoil the plot for anyone wanting to read the story. In parts it could be considered time travel or a medical drama, and it’s not without humor either.

In short, Passage is the story of a researcher named Joanna who is working on a project studying near death experiences (like seeing a bright white light at the end of a tunnel). She teams up with a scientist who is trying to provide a scientific explanation for these experiences. Their research is riddled with problems – mainly a lack of reliable subjects. Many of the people they deal with are spying for a rival researcher who is a new-age spiritualist who likes to influence results by telling his subjects what they ought to have seen.

Once again Connie Willis produces a plot full of detours and near misses (which I now think of as her trademark style). Characters race around the labyrinthine corridors trying to find each other or avoid the aforementioned spiritualist, and the intensity builds for the reader, not knowing what the true consequences of their research will be.

I’m curious about what scientific research has been done about near death experiences, and about how much the author researched for her book vs. how much originated from her imagination. Her descriptions and explanations in the story seem plausible to me as far as a possible physical purpose behind near death experiences, even if some of the other imagery used seems whimsical and/or far-fetched.

Since this book focuses on near death experiences it has a darker tone than some of her other stories (like To Say Nothing of the Dog). There are comedic moments though, and they balance the story, keeping it from becoming too dark. And even though the subject matter is much different than that of her books Blackout and All Clear, they are the most similar in style.

Passage should appeal to those who like medical novels and to fans of Connie Willis’s writing.

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