All Clear by Connie Willis
Narrators: Dina Pearlman
Rating: 7 out of 10
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Length: 29 hours, 44 minutes
Pages: 594 (print version)
Synopsis (from Publishers Weekly): Dr. Joanna Lander, a psychologist separating the truth from the expected in Near Death Experiences, is talked into working with Dr. Richard Wright (pun intended), a neurologist testing his theory that NDEs are a survival mechanism by simulating them with psychoactive drugs. When navigating the maze of the hospital in which the cafeteria is never open, dodging Mr. Mandrake who writes popular books on NDEs and fabricates most of his accounts and finding uncorrupted participants for their experiments becomes too difficult, Joanna herself goes under. What she finds on the Other Side almost drives her and Richard apart, while solving the mystery of what it means almost drives her mad.
Overall Impression: I’ve read quite a few of Willis’ books, and this one was probably the strangest. Which is saying a lot, since Willis writes some odd things. It’s quite a departure from her usual historical time-travel novels. Instead, this one is (mostly) set in the present day, in our world. The research that Joanna and Richard are doing about NDEs is really quite fascinating — I’d love to know some more about Willis’ motivation to write about this subject. She creates a convincing reality where a Near Death Experience can be replicated using drugs — and what the characters find there is…weird. Like, really weird. I can’t even hint at it, because that would be the world’s biggest spoiler.
Overall, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I found it felt a little dated, and some of the humor got a little repetitive and overdone. Still, this novel is another testament to Willis’s skill as a plot-maker and dreamer of interesting scenarios. Toward the end, you expect things to be looking up for the characters, but then there is a fan and some stuff hits it and…woah. It’s a book about Near Death Experiences, death itself, and the grief that follows. It’s definitely not an uplifting novel — there’s a lot of sadness and a sort of hopelessness. Yet, I thought it was the way the book had to end — she nailed it.
One other note — I loved how she handled her main characters’ grief. I loved how Kat dealt with the death of her fiance and her grandfather’s increasing dementia, and how her experiences allowed her to be there for the other characters when they were dealing with grief of their own.
Positives: I love Willis’ storytelling and story planning. She is one of those authors who really does both plot and character very well.
Negatives: It was just strange. And I’m not sure it was strange in the best sense of the word. I also wish I had read it when it first came out — It wouldn’t have felt dated ten years ago.
Narration: Pearlman was a good narrator, though her child voices got a little scratchy.
Other blogger opinions:
Bookfoolery: “The story is always entertaining, even if at times the detail can be a little heavy.”
At Home with Books: “There are comedic moments though, and they balance the story, keeping it from becoming too dark.”
A Novel Read: “It is Willis’ ability to convincingly create realities like this one that makes me appreciate her books so much.”