Saturday, September 22

Connie Willis: Passage

A psychologist who has been studying near-death experiences teams up with a neurologist who has developed a way to induce them using psychoactive drugs for a study that hopes to discover what the near-death experience actually is and how it can be used to help bring people back from the edge of death. A shortage of volunteers leads the psychologist to offer herself as a test subject.
She becomes obsessed with her induced near-death experiences, convinced that they have a deeper meaning than the neurologist believes and determined to prove it. While interviewing a recently conscious coma patient the purpose of the near-death experience suddenly becomes clear but before she can tell her research partners the psychologist is stabbed and dies.
Her friends and colleges get caught up in trying to decipher the meaning of her last words and recreate her last hours in hope of uncovering what connection she had made. Eventually everything falls into place and experiments begin to test her theory, with some measure of success.
I found the theories expounded in this story to be very interesting. There is some medical and technical language that might be a bit difficult for the uninitiated to understand but it is kept to a minimum and explained in context where possible. I don’t think knowledge of neuroscience is necessary to read, and comprehend, this book.
The story was a real page turner, though having said that I must admit that I thought there were far too many pages. I suspect this is either one of the author’s earlier works before her voice was fully developed or a later work after she was established enough to disregard an editor’s input. There is a bit of dead wood in this story that could have been trimmed to the betterment of the narrative. Though there was a sense of time passing, and quite quickly at times, in my mind many of the plot points were drawn out, lingering on just a little too long or repeating once too often. In a couple of places I just wanted to slap the characters and tell them to move on already. But the story was compelling enough that I kept reading in spite of that.
I found the emphasis on metaphor to be quite laboured. Not only the characters’ interest in what metaphors are and what might be a metaphor for what but also the blatant (and excessive) use of them in the story construct. Okay I might be reading more into the story than was there but I don’t think so, the comparisons were not subtle.
The ending didn’t feel natural to me. It was as though the author didn’t really know how to finish things off. I would be interested to know if there was originally a different ending.
I did enjoy this book. The concept is original and the writing flows. The story telling is good enough to balance out the flaws.-Lynn

To read Alex's review of Passages click here.

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