Another novel set at Oxford University
My latest book from the library is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a 1992 science fiction novel that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. I'd read it when it was published and had wanted to read it again but was only recently able to find an audio version of it through inter-library loan. I've read two other books by Willis - Lincoln's Dreams and Passage - both were disturbing and sad and hopeful, as is this book.
Doomsday Book is set in in Oxford, England and takes place in two different times - in 2054 and in 1348 - the stories being told in parallel. It tells of Kivrin Engle, a history student at Oxford University and of her mentor, Professor James Dunworthy. Against Dunworthy's better judgement, Kivrin is sent back into the medieval psst, the first historian to be allowed so far back and to such a dangerous era. Despite best laid plans for the success and safety of the trip, things go very wrong: just after Kivrin is sent into the past, 2054 Oxford is struck with a mysterious and deadly medical epidemic, with which Kivrin herself is unknowingly infected. The time-travel mechanism, the net, is closed down because of fears that the disease has come through to the present somehow from the past, and Kivrin is stranded. With friends dying around him and himself ill, Dunworthy fights to get the University to re-open the time-travel system to find Kivrin. Meanwhile, Kivrin arrives in the past very ill. She's found and taken to a village manor house to recover, with doctoring from the resident priest, Fr. Roche, who becomes her friend. Not long after, though, the village becomes infected with the plague, the Black Death, and everyone but Kivrin dies, she having been inoculated against the plague in preparation for her trip.
The parts of the novel about life in the middle ages is interesting, but the book is mostly about relationships. The relationship of love and trust between Kivrin and Dunworthy is almost destroyed when Kivrin doesn't understand why Dunworthy has apparently abandoned her in the past to such horrible circumstances, but the relationship of love and trust between Fr. Roche and God is strangely undamaged despite the awful suffering and death of the whole village, including, eventually, the priest's own ... I was struck by the problem-of-evil scenario and the difference in how the characters handled it. The ending, with Dunworthy finally coming back to find Kivrin, was moving.
- A small extract of a page of the Domesday Book of 1086