This came really really close to ending up in my "gave up on" shelf. I tried so hard to like it, I really did. Many times I'd tell myself that was it, I wasn't going to continue, and the ONLY reason I did finish it, is because it was Connie Willis. If this had been the first book I read by her, it would have gone to the local charity shop and I'd never touch another by her. But it wasn't, so I slogged through it...and slogged, and slogged and slogged.
It started out promising - investigating NDE's. But as I got further and further into the book, and the same repetitive stuff kept happening, I was more and more disillusioned. Or rather, bored.
Joanna Lander is a psychologist, based in a large hospital, studying NDE's, talking to people who have "coded" about what they experienced. Her nemesis would be Maurice Mandrake, who has written a best selling book about NDE's, full of the typical Life Reviews, seeing angels, seeing deceased relatives, seeing Jesus and the stairway to heaven (couldn't resist, sorry) etc etc. Joanna doesn't really believe all that, so she ends up teaming up with a scientist who beleives NDE's are purely chemical, only the brain going through teh dying process.
Or something like that - I'm no scientest nor a brain surgeon so a lot of the technical terms were completely lost on me. Mandrake is also based at the hospital, and Joanna routinely finds that he often gets to her interviewees first, and they end up spouting the same ol' story about seeing Uncle Alvin who died during the War and told them it wasn't their time etc.
So, it was so far, so good. I'm thinking cool premise to a book, will be interesting to see Willis' take on NDE's (cos after all,she's writing a book about them so she must believe one thing or another).
It died (heh, another one) for me pretty early on tho. Here's Joanna, a professional working psychologist, who is forever in a hurry, running around like a chook with its head cut off, being late for this and late for that - in fact, she is SOOOOO busy all the time, she keeps forgetting to get lunch and sometimes dinner, and the hospital cafeteria is forever closed or closing (which we are informed of CONSTANTLY) - and I keep thinking "Why the F*** doesn't she pack a lunch from home???????" In a huge hospital where there is only one cafeteria that is notoriously unreliable, and the nearest eating place is about 10 blocks away which has pretty horrible food, and she is just so damn busy doing....well, other than interviewing recently coded patients, I'm not too sure exactly what else she does to earn her wage (which, btw, I kept wondering WHO pays her? The hospital? a grant of some sort??) - why the hell wouldn't you bring in a lunch from home??? Fling a microwave in your office, stock up on those microwaveable meals from the supermarket, or keep the makings for a nice sandwich in a small fridge.....why the hell would you starve every day??
And i could never quite work out exactly WHAT kept her so freakin' busy all the time - and why she would get a gazillion voicemails every day. Cos her only work seemed to be walking aroudn the hospital talking to whichever patient had been declared clinically dead recently. She didn't give lectures on her work, or have any personal patients she regularly saw, or go to conferences, or have meetings with a board of people-who-give-grants if that is how she earnt her money, or have to present her findings to anyone....
And then there's Maurice Mandrake, who Joanna obviously disliked very much, being the publicity-hungry best-selling author who believed in Life after Death that he is. She was forever dodging him - hiding in stairwells, taking different routes through the hospital, avoiding seeing someone she wanted to see if she heard/saw him heading in teh same direction. And then he'd catch her and start a conversation, and NOT ONCE, did Joanna manage to say "right, that's it, I'm busy, can't talk now, see ya later buddy,don't want to talk to you" and just walk away. Like you or I would do, if we were on our way somewhere and got caught by someone we didn't like at all and didn't want to talk to.
Sheesh. She drove me INSANE. Batshit crazy actually.
Right, thinking about it now, I'm changing my two stars (cos i'm nice), to one star. Cos this book drove me nuts. It was waaaay too long by about two-thirds. Seriously. There was crap in there that just didn't need to be there - her old high school teacher forever quoting poets etc whilst in the midst of Alzheimers, who apparently said something casually during a high school english lesson YEARS ago, that Joanna suddenly realized held the KEY to what an NDE was, and why she was on the Titanic when she has her own induced NDE's; the tragic backstory of the teacher's neice Kit who cares for him and becomes Joanna's researcher on the Titanic; the bloody cafeteria that was never open; and oh crap, about 85% of the whole damn story.
Although mind you, I take back the screaming of "JUST GOOGLE IT, YOU STUPID WOMAN" that I kept yelling every time she rang Kit to look up something in teh books about the Titanic, when I realized when the book was written. *blush*
I've read a few books by Connie Willis and enjoyed them all. Not this one. It took me 5 days to finish, and I can normally knock out a book this size in less than 2. And when I DID finish, it was a with a HUGE sense of relief and then glee as I watched the damn brick sail through the room and hit my bedroom wall.