Thursday, March 4, 2010


by Connie Willis

Buy the book here.


Plot: A woman is researching near-death experiences.

I didn't put much in the plot because, despite my "no guarantee concerning spoilers" policy, I really don't want to give anything away with this one. Here, I'll just quote what the back of the book says:

"Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist specializing in near-death experiences. She is about to get help from a new doctor with the power to give her the chance to get as close to death as anyone can. A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Joanna's first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined - so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why that place is so hauntingly familiar. But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid. Yet just when Joanna thinks she understands, she's in for the biggest surprise of all - a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page."

"Feverishly reading" is right. This book is 780 pages long, and I finished it in 9 days. It's addictive. Even when I did walk away from it, my mind never did. To a certain extent, even almost a week after finishing it, I'm still just as much engrossed. I want to read it again, to spot clues I missed the first time through. While it holds many stylistic similarities to the other Connie Willis book I've read, To Say Nothing of the Dog, the subject matter is completely different and the ending is much less satisfying. At the end of this book, you're left hanging. Many questions remain unanswered, impossible to answer. It's the nature of the subject matter, really. Willis could have gone on to explain the afterlife or lack thereof in great detail, à la What Dreams May Come or Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but that wouldn't have been appropriate. The whole concept of Passage is not knowing. It's all about unanswered questions and how we cope with knowing that we can't know.

I recommend this book to everyone who plans on dying. If you don't plan on dying, you're in some serious denial and I recommend this book to you even more urgently.