A tunnel, a light, a door. And beyond it ... the unimaginable.
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 — ashattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.60(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Connie Willis has won major awards for her novels and short stories. Her first short-story collection, Fire Watch, was a New York Times Notable Book. Her other works include Doomsday Book, Lincoln's Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Ms. Willis lives in Greeley, Colorado, with her family.
Read an Excerpt
—Goethe's last words
"I heard a noise," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I was moving through this tunnel."
"Can you describe it?" Joanna asked, pushing the minitape recorder a little closer to her.
"The tunnel?" Mrs. Davenport said, looking around her hospital room, as if for inspiration. "Well, it was dark..."
Joanna waited. Any question, even "How dark was it?" could be a leading one when it came to interviewing people about their near-death experiences, and most people, when confronted with a silence, would talk to fill it, and all the interviewer had to do was wait. Not, however, Mrs. Davenport. She stared at her IV stand for a while, and then looked inquiringly at Joanna.
"Is there anything else you can remember about the tunnel?" Joanna asked.
"No..." Mrs. Davenport said after a minute. "It was dark."
"Dark," Joanna wrote down. She always took notes in case the tape ran out or something went wrong with the recorder, and so she could note the subject's manner and intonation. "Closemouthed," she wrote. "Reluctant." But sometimes the reluctant ones turned out to be the best subjects if you just had patience. "You said you heard a noise," Joanna said. "Can you describe it?"
"A noise?" Mrs. Davenport said vaguely.
If you just had the patience of Job, Joanna corrected. "You said," she repeated, consulting her notes, "'I heard a noise, and then I was moving through this tunnel.' Did you hear the noise before you entered the tunnel?"
"No..." Mrs. Davenport said, frowning, "...yes. I'm not sure. It was a sort of ringing..." She looked questioningly at Joanna. "Or maybe a buzzing?" Joanna kept her face carefully impassive. An encouraging smile or a frown could be leading, too. "A buzzing, I think," Mrs. Davenport said after a minute.
"Can you describe it?"
I should have had something to eat before I started this, Joanna thought. It was after twelve, and she hadn't had anything for breakfast except coffee and a Pop-Tart. But she had wanted to get to Mrs. Davenport before Maurice Mandrake did, and the longer the interval between the NDE and the interview, the more confabulation there was.
"Describe it?" Mrs. Davenport said irritably. "A buzzing."
It was no use. She was going to have to ask more specific questions, leading or not, or she would never get anything out of her. "Was the buzzing steady or intermittent?"
"Intermittent?" Mrs. Davenport said, confused.
"Did it stop and start? Like someone buzzing to get into an apartment? Or was it a steady sound like the buzzing of a bee?"
Mrs. Davenport stared at her IV stand some more. "A bee," she said finally.
"Was the buzzing loud or soft?"
"Loud," she said, but uncertainly. "It stopped."
I'm not going to be able to use any of this, Joanna thought. "What happened after it stopped?"
"It was dark," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and—"
Joanna's pager began to beep. Wonderful, she thought, fumbling to switch it off. This is all I need. She should have turned it off before she started, in spite of Mercy General's rule about keeping it on at all times. The only people who ever paged her were Vielle and Mr. Mandrake, and it had ruined more than one NDE interview.
"Do you have to go?" Mrs. Davenport asked.
"No. You saw a light—"
"If you have to go..."
"I don't," Joanna said firmly, sticking the pager back in her pocket without looking at it. "It's nothing. You saw a light. Can you describe it?"
"It was golden," Mrs. Davenport said promptly. Too promptly. And she looked smugly pleased, like a child who knows the answer.
"Golden," Joanna said.
"Yes, and brighter than any light I'd ever seen, but it didn't hurt my eyes. It was warm and comforting, and as I looked into it I could see it was a being, an Angel of Light."
"An Angel of Light," Joanna said with a sinking feeling.
"Yes, and all around the angel were people I'd known who had died. My mother and my poor dear father and my uncle Alvin. He was in the navy in World War II. He was killed at Guadalcanal, and the Angel of Light said—"
"Before you went into the tunnel," Joanna interrupted, "did you have an out-of-body experience?"
"No," she said, just as promptly. "Mr. Mandrake said people sometimes do, but all I had was the tunnel and the light."
Mr. Mandrake. Of course. She should have known. "He interviewed me last night," Mrs. Davenport said. "Do you know him?"
Oh, yes, Joanna thought.
"He's a famous author," Mrs. Davenport said. "He wrote The Light at the End of the Tunnel. It was a best-seller, you know."
"Yes, I know," Joanna said.
"He's working on a new one," Mrs. Davenport said. "Messages from the Other Side. You know, you'd never know he was famous. He's so nice. He has a wonderful way of asking questions."
He certainly does, Joanna thought. She'd heard him: "When you went through the tunnel, you heard a buzzing sound, didn't you? Would you describe the light you saw at the end of the tunnel as golden? Even though it was brighter than anything you'd ever seen, it didn't hurt your eyes, did it? When did you meet the Angel of Light?" Leading wasn't even the word.
And smiling, nodding encouragingly at the answers he wanted. Pursing his lips, asking, "Are you sure it wasn't more of a buzzing than a ringing?" Frowning, asking concernedly, "And you don't remember hovering above the operating table? You're sure?"
They remembered it all for him, leaving their body and entering the tunnel and meeting Jesus, remembered the Light and the Life Review and the Meetings with Deceased Loved Ones. Conveniently forgetting the sights and sounds that didn't fit and conjuring up ones that did. And completely obliterating whatever had actually occurred.
It was bad enough having Moody's books out there and Embraced by the Light and all the other near-death-experience books and TV specials and magazine articles telling people what they should expect to see without having someone right here in Mercy General putting ideas in her subjects' heads.
"Mr. Mandrake told me except for the out-of-body thing," Mrs. Davenport said proudly, "my near-death experience was one of the best he'd ever taken."
Taken is right, Joanna thought. There was no point in going on with this. "Thank you, Mrs. Davenport," she said. "I think I have enough."
"But I haven't told you about the heavenly choir yet, or the Life Review," Mrs. Davenport, suddenly anything but reluctant, said. "The Angel of Light made me look in this crystal, and it showed me all the things I'd ever done, both good and bad, my whole life."
Which she will now proceed to tell me, Joanna thought. She sneaked her hand into her pocket and switched her pager back on. Beep, she willed it. Now.
"...and then the crystal showed me the time I got locked out of my car, and I looked all through my purse and my coat pockets for the key..."
Now that Joanna wanted the beeper to go off, it remained stubbornly silent. She needed one with a button you could press to make it beep in emergencies. She wondered if Radio Shack had one.
"...and then it showed my going into the hospital and my heart stopping," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then the light started to blink on and off, and the Angel handed me a telegram, just like the one we got when Alvin was killed, and I said, 'Does this mean I'm dead?' and the Angel said, 'No, it's a message telling you you must return to your earthly life.' Are you getting all this down?"
"Yes," Joanna said, writing, "Cheeseburger, fries, large Coke."
"'It is not your time yet,' the Angel of Light said, and the next thing I knew I was back in the operating room."
"If I don't get out of here soon," Joanna wrote, "the cafeteria will be closed, so please, somebody, page me."
Her beeper finally, blessedly, went off during Mrs. Davenport's description of the light as "like shining prisms of diamonds and sapphires and rubies," a verbatim quote from The Light at the End of the Tunnel. "I'm sorry, I've got to go," Joanna said, pulling the pager out of her pocket. "It's an emergency." She snatched up her recorder and switched it off.
"Where can I get in touch with you if I remember anything else about my NDE?"
"You can have me paged," Joanna said, and fled. She didn't even check to see who was paging her till she was safely out of the room. It was a number she didn't recognize, from inside the hospital. She went down to the nurses' station to call it.
"Do you know whose number this is?" she asked Eileen, the charge nurse.
"Not offhand," Eileen said. "Is it Mr. Mandrake's?"
"No, I've got Mr. Mandrake's number," Joanna said grimly. "He managed to get to Mrs. Davenport before I did. That's the third interview this week he's ruined."
"You're kidding," Eileen said sympathetically. She was still looking at the number on the pager. "It might be Dr. Wright's. He was here looking for you earlier."
"Dr. Wright?" Joanna said, frowning. The name didn't sound familiar. From force of habit, she said, "Can you describe him?"
"Tall, young, blond—"
"Cute," Tish, who'd just come up to the desk with a chart, said.
The description didn't fit anybody Joanna knew. "Did he say what he wanted?"
Eileen shook her head. "He asked me if you were the person doing NDE research."
"Wonderful," Joanna said. "He probably wants to tell me how he went through a tunnel and saw a light, all his dead relatives, and Maurice Mandrake."
"Do you think so?" Eileen said doubtfully. "I mean, he's a doctor."
"If only that were a guarantee against being a nutcase," Joanna said. "You know Dr. Abrams from over at Mt. Sinai? Last week he suckered me into lunch by promising to talk to the hospital board about letting me do interviews over there, and then proceeded to tell me about his NDE, in which he saw a tunnel, a light, and Moses, who told him to come back and read the Torah out loud to people. Which he did. All the way through lunch."
"You're kidding," Eileen said.
"But this Dr. Wright was cute," Tish put in.
"Unfortunately, that's not a guarantee either," Joanna said. "I met a very cute intern last week who told me he'd seen Elvis in his NDE." She glanced at her watch. The cafeteria would still be open, just barely. "I'm going to lunch," she said. "If Dr. Wright shows up again, tell him it's Mr. Mandrake he wants."
She started down to the cafeteria in the main building, taking the service stairs instead of the elevator to avoid running into either one of them. She supposed Dr. Wright was the one who had paged her earlier, when she was talking to Mrs. Davenport. On the other hand, it might have been Vielle, paging her to tell her about a patient who'd coded and might have had an NDE. She'd better check. She went down to the ER.
It was jammed, as usual, wheelchairs everywhere, a boy with a hand wrapped in a red-soaked dish towel sitting on an examining table, two women talking rapidly and angrily in Spanish to the admitting nurse, someone in one of the trauma rooms screaming obscenities in English at the top of her lungs. Joanna worked her way through the tangle of IV poles and crash carts, looking for Vielle's blue scrubs and her black, worried-looking face. She always looked worried in the ER, whether she was responding to a code or removing a splinter, and Joanna often wondered what effect it had on her patients.
There she was, over by the station desk, reading a chart and looking worried. Joanna maneuvered past a wheelchair and a stack of blankets to get to her. "Did you try to page me?" she asked.
Vielle shook her blue-capped head. "It's like a tomb down here. Literally. A gunshot, two ODs, one AIDS-related pneumonia. All DOA, except one of the overdoses."
She put down the chart and motioned Joanna into one of the trauma rooms. The examining table had been moved out and a bank of electrical equipment moved in, amid a tangle of dangling wires and cables. "What's this?" Joanna asked.
"The communications room," Vielle said, "if it ever gets finished. So we can be in constant contact with the ambulances and the chopper and give medical instructions to the paramedics on their way here. That way we'll know if our patients are DOA before they get here. Or armed." She pulled off her surgical cap and shook out her tangle of narrow black braids. "The overdose who wasn't DOA tried to shoot one of the orderlies getting him on the examining table. He was on this new drug, rogue, that's making the rounds. Luckily he'd taken too much, and died before he could pull the trigger."
"You've got to put in a request to transfer to Peds," Joanna said.
Vielle shuddered. "Kids are even worse than druggers. Besides, if I transferred, who'd notify you of NDEs before Mandrake got hold of them?"
Joanna smiled. "You are my only hope. By the way, do you happen to know a Dr. Wright?"
"I've been looking for him for years," Vielle said.
"Well, I don't think this is the one," Joanna said. "He wouldn't be one of the interns or residents in the ER, would he?"
"I don't know," Vielle said. "We get so many through here, I don't even bother to learn their names. I just call all of them 'Stop that,' or, 'What do you think you're doing?' I'll check." They went back out into the ER. Vielle grabbed a clipboard and drew her finger down a list. "Nope. Are you sure he works here at Mercy General?"
"No," Joanna said. "But if he comes looking for me, I'm up on seven-west."
"And what about if an NDEer shows up and I need to find you?"
Joanna grinned. "I'm in the cafeteria."
"I'll page you," Vielle said. "This afternoon should be busy."
"Heart attack weather," she said and, at Joanna's blank look, pointed toward the emergency room entrance. "It's been snowing since nine this morning."
Joanna looked wonderingly in the direction Vielle was pointing, though she couldn't see the outside windows from here. "I've been in curtained patient rooms all morning," she said. And in windowless offices and hallways and elevators.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
PASSAGE is a long book, but then, it needed to be. Because there is a lot going on between it's covers, and it's an ultimately very satisfying and emotionally moving read. It's neatly divided into three parts. The first is a rather leisurely introduction, which establishes the important characters (all of whom have important functions in the plot), and their relationships with each other. The tension really begins in Part Two, which ends with a plot twist too devious to spoil. In Part Three, the book shifts into overdrive, and it all ends with a climax that I completely adored. I avoided reading this book for quite a while, because the subject matter of Near Death Experiences just didn't interest me, but I finally gave in and read the book, and I'm really glad that I did!
A fascinating topic, well written, with humor and dry wit. You'll stay up all night reading. Don't miss this book!
I have this in hardback but am seriously considering buying this for my nook as it deals with some very interesting topics and is well written. I also cannot understand the bad reviews. Purhaps the subjects do not appeal to all rraders, but this is a great book and I have suggested it to many people.
Not the easiest book to read as there is a very complicated message being told. However it is so intricately exicuted I would have to say it is one of the best reads I have had the pleasure of getting tangled up in. Those that have given a negative review I'm afraid just don't understand it. No disrespect intended.
I don't understand the negative reviews of this book. It's one of the most amazing pieces of fiction I've read (and reread) in the last ten years. I pick it up at least once a year to peruse it again, astonished each time at the things I missed before. The subject matter is brilliantly handled, and the race toward the final reveal keeps me reading well into the wee hours of the morning. Highly recommended.
One of the most important characteristics of good Science Fiction and Fantasy is that one shouldn't have to stretch too far to believe what is written. Such is the case with 'Passage.' Connie Willis builds the suspense slowly, and an impatient reader might have a problem with that. But she uses that slow buildup to let us become familiar with her well-developed characters. Maisie, Mr. Briarley, Kit, Vielle, and even Mr. Mandrake all seem familiar, and are very much like people I have met, so I found them to be entirely realistic characters. It is possible that some readers with particularly strong religious beliefs might have some problems with Ms. Willis' premise regarding the Near Death Experience (NDE), but the conclusion of the book leaves the issue open, so it should offend nobody. I liked this book, as I have liked all of the Connie Willis books I have read. It is recommended reading for those with a little patience and an open mind.
I enjoyed 'Passage' because of the in depth research that Connie Willis had done. The details and the things she knew convinced me of the story line. It was a page turner for me and although long, it was quite necessary to draw the reader into the story. I was quite attached to the characters and so that made everything much more real. If you enjoy Connie Willis this is a must-read.
It's a fascinating subject to be sure. But Willis is lost here. Something else- it seems that when Willis writes with an American accent instead of a British one, the magic dies... Based on the other Willis books I've read (5), and what other reviewers said here, I got the book. I am VERY disappointed. The main lead in the book is a one-dimensional creature and the behavior of the supporting cast is not logical. Chapter one could be Chapter fifteen and nobody would know the difference. I am VERY VERY disappointed.
Passage is an enthralling, fast-action, can't put it down novel. A sure winner of another Hugo for Willis. Willis teases the reader constantly with the unexpected. You are never quite sure where the line falls between fact and fiction. Passage deserves to be widely read. The person who recommended this to me advised me to call in sick, take the phone off the hook and plan to do nothing for a day but read this book from cover to cover. Good advice.
This is Connie Willis' most profound work - a moving and uplifting work about the process of dying: in particular, the 4-6 minutes before brain-death occurs. It is also a tribute to the courage and unflinching honesty of the scientist. Dr. Joanna Lander is a cognitive psychologist studying NDE's (Near-Death-Experiences). She is thwarted in her attempts to get unbiased descriptions of NDE's from recalled-to-life patients at Mercy General Hospital by her nemesis Maurice Mandrake, a popular new-age writer. He biases their reports by 'suggesting' that their NDE's have been warm cozy experiences filled with angels, golden light, etc. Fortunately, Joanna teams up with Dr. Richard Wright, a cognitive psychologist who has found a drug which triggers NDE's in the lab, allowing them to engage in a scientific study of the Near-Death-Experience. What they find is anything but warm and cozy. Connie Willis' description of the process of brain-death, although harrowing and completely non-spiritual, is ultimately a profoundly moving tribute to the courage of the human mind/body. In this book, one person's mind is a universe, and its last few minutes are an epic odyssey. A WARNING: a lot of readers are going to find the first half of the book tedious, as there is a great deal of time spent describing Dr.Lander wandering about labyrinthine corridors in the hospital,or trying unsuccessfully to reach people with beepers and voicemail, or to hunt down information. Nobody seems to have cellphones or use the Internet. One reader even complained that reading this book was like having an NDE. DON'T GET FRUSTRATED! It seems to me that the above reader was more correct than he realized - that the entire novel indeed is a metaphor for the NDE itself - that CONNIE WILLIS IS TRYING TO GIVE US THE EXPERIENCE OF HAVING AN NDE. The endless corridors of Mercy General (or Joanna's high school) are a metaphor for the neural pathways of the brain. For example, Mercy General is three hospitals imperfectly combined into one building by a series of passageways that don't quite match up,(and her high school has three levels) just as the brain is composed of three parts - cerebrum, cerebellum, and amygdula - imperfectly joined together. If you try testing this hypothesis as you read the book, you'll find the first half much more engrossing.
Passage isn¿t an easy book to pigeon-hole when it comes to genre classification, in part because if I try to define it too clearly I will spoil the plot for anyone wanting to read the story. In parts it could be considered time travel or a medical drama, and it¿s not without humor either.In short, Passage is the story of a researcher named Joanna who is working on a project studying near death experiences (like seeing a bright white light at the end of a tunnel). She teams up with a scientist who is trying to provide a scientific explanation for these experiences. Their research is riddled with problems ¿ mainly a lack of reliable subjects. Many of the people they deal with are spying for a rival researcher who is a new-age spiritualist who likes to influence results by telling his subjects what they ought to have seen.Once again Connie Willis produces a plot full of detours and near misses (which I now think of as her trademark style). Characters race around the labyrinthine corridors trying to find each other or avoid the aforementioned spiritualist, and the intensity builds for the reader, not knowing what the true consequences of their research will be.I¿m curious about what scientific research has been done about near death experiences, and about how much the author researched for her book vs. how much originated from her imagination. Her descriptions and explanations in the story seem plausible to me as far as a possible physical purpose behind near death experiences, even if some of the other imagery used seems whimsical and/or far-fetched.Since this book focuses on near death experiences it has a darker tone than some of her other stories (like To Say Nothing of the Dog). There are comedic moments though, and they balance the story, keeping it from becoming too dark. And even though the subject matter is much different than that of her books Blackout and All Clear, they are the most similar in style.Passage should appeal to those who like medical novels and to fans of Connie Willis¿s writing.
Wow! What a book, left me stunned and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days.
Others will tell you the details of this book -- I will tell you why, now, after a second read, Passage is one of my all-time favorites. Passage explores near death experiences through the eyes and experiments of two scientists. It is memorable and remarkable because the haunted, desperate desire to ¿know¿ and to ¿understand¿ experienced by the protagonist became real to me as reader; the feeling builds during the reading and lingers for days after. In fact, I picked up Passage again not because I remembered the story, but because I remembered that feeling and I wanted to experience it again. That it turned out to be a great story is an added bonus!
I typically love Connie Willis but I found "Passage" to be a bit difficult to get through. The idea of the story is very interesting - a bunch of doctors are studying life-after-death and the whole "light at the end of the tunnel" phenomenon and end up stumbling on something far greater than they ever expected. However, the story really drags in some places. The same event will happen over and over and over again and as a reader, I often wondered when I'd finally get to the point of the whole story. I had to put it down a few times before finishing but found the ending satisfactory.
Passage is my second Connie Willis read and it will not be my last. The characters are as well done and believable as the characters from Doomsday Book, yet the plot line is in a totally different genre. That Willis can succeed so well in these disparate genres is a statement of her capabilities and shows she is deserving of her following.Passage is a work of contemporary fiction set in a metropolitan hospital in Colorado. The story centers around two doctors at the hospital doing research into Near Death Experiences. While most of the action takes place in the hospital, and there are several semi-technical medical scenes, there is no way this novel will be mistaken for an episode of ER or Gray¿s Anatomy. The character development is far above what those authors produce.There were quite a few characters with major roles in this book and Willis does an excellent job of introducing them, crafting them and giving them enough depth that I honestly cared about them. There was also a major character that was so one dimensional, he was used as a stereotype and even he played his role in advancing the plot extremely well. I was also pleased that, for once, a male and female doctor worked together and did not fall in love. In fact, there¿s not even a single hospital sex scene in the entire book. I am not a doctor, and I don¿t play one on TV, so I will leave any criticism of the medical procedures used in the book to the experts. As a fairly rational reader, I found this portion of the plot believable and I was able to accept them in the given context. I do have some degree of gripe with the story¿s assumption that NDEs have a unifying reason behind them. This is minor, more of a personal opinion, and I am willing to set it aside for the sake of the story.This book will make a worthy addition to the fiction reader¿s library if you are looking for a slightly unconventional plot premise. If NDEs have any interest for you, you will probably enjoy this as well. I also have no hesitation suggesting this book to people who like quirky characters, as there are plenty of them here.
Dr. Joanna Lander is studying near-death experiences, or NDEs. Dr. Richard Wright has discovered a way to chemically replicate what the brain goes through chemically during an NDE. Richard asks Joanna to confirm that what his volunteers are experiencing are indeed NDEs, but when funding and volunteers become scarce, Joanna goes under herself. I found this book extremely difficult to take, but in a good way: it's extremely suspenseful and the characters are likeable and sometimes infuriatingly realistic. At first I wondered if this lengthy novel could have been shortened, but the various stories and details shared become important eventually, and add even more to the realism. Though at times emotionally harrowing, this was one seriously excellent story. A little dark in places - it is largely about death, after all - but it never loses all hope. And now I need to go pick up everything else Willis has ever written.
Willis fans may be put off by this one: it doesn't have the light & sometimes even cutesy quality of some of her other work. (The darkness/seriousness regarding mortality that a part of Doomsday Book is a much stronger focus here.) But it does have interesting and well-drawn characters, and it manages to deal pretty well with some serious topics--death, wishful thinking, the human spirit . . . My favorite Willis novel.
I enjoyed parts of this book, but a lot of it could have been cut out and it probably would have been a better book. The ideas presented about NDEs were interesting, but there was a lot of boring technical information that was way over my head. There was also a bit too much information about things that Joanna was trying to figure out (like the significance of the number 58) that became a bit much after a while. And why were there all the references to the cafeteria always being closed? Did that have anything to do with the story at all? I almost put this book down for good about halfway through it, then became interested in it again. I liked the disaster/SOS concept and liked the whole thing about the alzheimer's patient being between 2 places, but there was too much repetition of things that Joanna was trying to figure out and lots of useless information that I could have done without reading. After the big thing happened near the end (trying not to spoil it), the book went on a bit too long with Dr. Wright trying to figure things out just like Joanna did. I think I probably would have given a condensed version of this book a higher rating.
Well-written, just didn't hold my interest for very long.
I had several problems with this book.I found Joanna unconvincing and unsympathetic. I also found her irrational and unprofessional and irresponsible. And profoundly wimpy. I couldn¿t understand how someone like her could get and keep a job, and who would pay for it. The other characters offered little to make up for the protagonist¿s weakness. Richard was hardly a character at all. None of the research volunteers felt like real people. Many of the characters felt like caricatures, with Mandrake being exhibit A. There were times when Willis almost seemed to be going for slapstick humor, but without much success. And other times when she seemed to be aiming for something Kafkaesque, particularly in the bizarrely dysfunctional setting of Mercy General. But I found her efforts in this vein similarly ineffective and at times downright annoying.I thought the first two-thirds of Passage dragged. It would have been a better book with fewer unreturned pages from Mandrake, fewer addled reminiscences from the Yorktown survivor, fewer futile efforts to eat, and fewer opportunities to hear about Maisie¿s reading habits. The fact that what ended up happening to Joanna was going to happen to someone was telegraphed far too obviously. Having said all that, I think my biggest problem with the book had to do with its basic premise. I found the whole NDE thing hokey, and the solution to the big mystery to be hokey, and the final resolutions to be hokey. I came to the topic with much skepticism, and Willis made no real effort to overcome my skepticism.
In some ways this is quite a strange book (the subject matter is near death experiences), and I very much enjoyed the fact that I had no idea where it was going. (Although that always scares me as well, because I'm frightened that if the end doesn't work for me, it will ruin my enjoyment of the whole story.) Overall I quite enjoyed this, although not as much as Doomsday Book. Still, I liked the characters and spent a pleasant and suspenseful time engaged in this world.
Connie Willis's 'To Say Nothing of the Dog" is one of my all time favorite books and even so I had never read anything else by her until now. I think I was afraid that anything else couldn't help itself to be anything but a let down when compared to that wonderful romp of a book. I liked Passage, it didn't rock my world or anything but it was clever, mysterious and fun. I love the way Ms. Willis writes in that there are no exteraneous words or plot filler. Every single word, every move the characters (noth main and support) make link the plot together in ways that are not immediately apparent but give you the thrill of the "ah-ha!" moment when it all comes together. This book was a good solid, entertaining read but not quite as breathtakingly beautiful as 'To Say Nothing of the Dog', but a lovely read none the less.
Even though this was a 780 page book, for me, it was a pretty fast read. Yes, some editing could have been done to diminish the many referrals to the anterior temporal lobe activity, the brain scan jargon, and the unanswered pages of Mr. Mandrake, but I just had to find out where the research would lead. So, even with some flaws, I would still recommend it if you have any interest in near death experience or the Titanic.
Psychologists studying Near Death Experiences, Joanna Lander and Richard Wright have figured out a way to simulate the NDE using an injected drug. When study subjects become scarce, Joanna volunteers to go under so that Dr. Wright can study her brain waves. What she finds is unlike anything she had expected. And when the unthinkable happens, Joanna and Richard must find a way to get to the bottom of the NDE. From the first page, Connie Willis introduces us to characters that we want to get to know, that we care about instantly. Although it takes awhile for the action to get started, I was still interested in the book because I loved the characters and wanted to see where they were going. The suspense builds perfectly, but I felt that the last 200 pages or so dragged a bit.
I love Connie Willis. All of the books that I've read by her have been intelligent, scientific, suspenseful, witty and fast-paced. And by fast paced I mean frenetic. It's hard to say that I actually "enjoy" reading them because she never lets her characters rest for one single second. And you can't rest either--you can't take a break for a snack or water or to use the bathroom. But, I guess I like that kind of intensity because I keep coming back for more of her books.