Sunday, August 28, 2011

All Clear Read-along: Week 4 (Pages 471-641)

Welcome to the fourth and final discussion post for the read-along of All Clear by Connie Willis, which I’ve been co-hosting with Carrie at Books and Movies. (If you missed them, please go back and read the discussions for week 1, week 2 and week 3.) Oh and feel free to join the discussion if you read this book at any other point as well!

(Apologies for posting this discussion a day late: sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging.)

Note that the rest of this post contains major spoilers!

Wow, the fourth section of this book was intense. I can’t tell you how happy I was that Mr. Dunworthy’s theory was wrong! I didn’t believe it for a second (what a terrible ending that would have been), but it was a relief all the same that things worked out in the end, even though Michael died and Eileen stayed behind. I think Willis succeeded admirably in what she set out to do, which was to show how everyone in England, from ambulance drivers, firewatchers, air-raid wardens and nurses to canteen workers, shopgirls, chorus girls and librarians, contributed to winning the war.

Intellectually, though, I must admit to a couple of disappointments. First off, it bugged me that the ending was framed as the men (Michael and Colin) rescuing the women (although technically Eileen was not rescued, and both Eileen and Binnie were instrumental in the rescue as well). This just seemed so same old same old. I also kinda wished that we’d returned to 2060 at the end, although the end as it stands is dramatic and satisfying (and might not have worked as well otherwise).

I’m also left with a few questions, which I’m putting to you:
  1. What does Michael mean when he says his name is not Michael or Mike Davis or Ernest Worthing or Shackleton—that in fact his name is Faulknor (page 550)? Was he really both Shackleton and Faulknor? (How is that possible?) Is he speaking metaphorically?

  2. What does Polly realize when she looks at Colin and sees the resemblance (page 640)? My assumption is that Colin is Eileen’s descendant. Is that what you understood too?

  3. Finally, who was it who goes back at the end of Blackout? Was it Mr. Dunworthy? (I don’t think it could have been Colin because he doesn’t return to 1940.) Oh! I just reread that section again and I understand it now: it was Mr. Dunworthy, but he wasn’t coming through from 2060—it’s when he came through as a young man...!
I almost want to reread both Blackout and All Clear immediately as I suspect that Willis sprinkled many other clues throughout the books. For example, at one point I was pretty sure that one of the characters (I can’t remember which, but I’m assuming it was Polly) bumped into Eileen’s reverend on VE-Day, and of course Colin runs into several women who knew Polly as Mary (though he doesn’t realize it).

What did you think? Were you as satisfied as I was with how things turned out? Did you have any other questions about the ending?

Thank you to everybody who participated in these two read-alongs—and thank you to Carrie for co-hosting them with me. As I mentioned before, please feel free to join in the discussion even if you didn’t read these books during the read-alongs.


  1. I don't remember enough details to answer 1 and 3, but I definitely agree with you on the meaning of question 2! All the different names definitely were confusing!

  2. In answer to question one, this is what I got: Shackleton left his team behind in order to rescue them, but lived. Faulknor left his team behind, secured their rescue, but died. So he was speaking metaphorically. (I think. LOL)

    Yes, I believe Colin is Eileen's great-great-etc. grandson.

    I wasn't really bothered by Colin and Michael being the ones who saved the day - I didn't really see it as a gender thing, more of a "right place, right time" kind of thing.

    Michael could only post the newspaper articles because of the time he spent in the hospital with the other man who was in the secret service, the man who got him the job - so I didn't see that as having anything to do with him being a man. And as for Colin, I really believe it was his love for Polly that prompted him to never give up. So romantic!

    I loved the ending - and, like you, was very glad Mr. Dunworthy's theory was incorrect. Not only for the sake of this story and the characters, but because I want more time travel books from Connie Willis!

    I completely agree with you that she did such an amazing job of showing how it took the efforts of so many people with so many jobs to do in order to win the war - and the historians experienced it in a way they never could have if they hadn't been stuck.

    I loved this book through and through - and am determined to get my hands on a copy of the short story collection that has the story "Fire Watch" in it, as I believe it has more of Mr. Dunworthy's backstory. That's the only one of her Oxford time travel stories I haven't read yet - then I'll have to wait until she writes another one. Sigh.

  3. I've been waiting and waiting for you to be done to check and see that you thought that Colin was Eileen's descendent too! That is what I thought … but I so wanted to double-check because she "uncharacteristically" didn't spell it out.

    And I do wish that more time had been spent in Oxford.

    I totally missed the Faulknor thing.

    I think this was a wonderful way to learn about The Blitz and get a really in-depth view of the realities of it but in a very interesting way.

    Thanks for encouraging me to read these books!

  4. I just finished Blackout and All Clear and then went looking for discussions and found yours.

    As to your questions, here are my thoughts:

    1. Yes, metaphorically. Like Shackleton and Faulknor, Mike's actions led to the rescue of Polly.

    2. I think the interpretation is that Merope/Eileen is Colin's great-...-grandmother. I want to reread both books now to see if there are any other clues to this.

    3. As was pointed out: young Dunworthy.

    Carrie K: If you just want to read Firewatch, it is available online at After reading the story, you should go back and reread pages 150-163 of All Clear.

    One thing that bugged me is in the sections dealing with Mike/Ernest in Fortitude South. All the male characters were referred to with mostly female names and sometimes female pronouns, and if that was explained I missed it. Was this another part of the deception? That's what I finally assumed.

    As I was thinking about the books again this morning, I'm wondering if there's not a big plot hole right in the beginning of Blackout. Polly avoids Dunworthy so he won't cancel her drop to the Blitz. But at this point Dunworthy is already aware there's some problem because he alters the order of Michael's drops. So he can cancel Polly's Blitz drop just by telling Badri not to send her. But he doesn't; all we get is the first of Polly's many mistaken assumptions.

    So, a couple of quibbles, but overall a very good read. Especially the last half of All Clear when we started getting some answers to the questions that had been building since Blackout. If it wasn't for the huge pile of other books I want to read, I'd go back and reread both books.

  5. Kevin - thanks for the head's up about reading Fire Watch online!

    I think the female names during the Ernest portions were code names because they were all secret agents - at least that's the impression I got. It was a bit confusing, though!

    Also, I think the reason Polly was avoiding Dunworthy is because he didn't know she had already gone to V-E Day - I think that was the secret she and Colin had at the very beginning of Blackout. So as far as he knew, her drops were happening in chronological order. I could be wrong, but that's the sense I got. :)

    Thanks for joining in the discussion!