Read Passage by Connie Willis Online


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 usiA 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....

Title : Passage
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780553580518
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 780 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Passage Reviews

  • j
    2019-02-06 23:06

    This book is kind of a beautiful mess. I can think of few other authors with the equal ability to drive me absolutely insane and keep me reading, usually with a lump in my throat. This is my third Connie Willis novel. To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my favorite books of all time, a comedic farce wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a sci-fi novel. It is probably too long and a lot of the plot relies on misunderstandings, miscommunication, missed connections and narrative dead ends. Doomsday Book is... not one of my favorite books of all time, a tragedy wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a sci-fi novel and haphazardly glued to a comedic farce-turned-maudlin. It is definitely too long.Passage. Passage is a... something. It has elements of comedy, but it isn't nearly as humorous as To Say Nothing of the Dog. It is certainly tragic, but hardly the bleak death march of Doomsday Book. It is arguably sci-fi, but we're dealing with a fairly plausible (on its own terms, at least) medical exploration rather than, you know, time travel. It is also definitely too long.But damn, all those pages pack a punch. Not that there couldn't be about a third fewer of them.You know this if you have read Connie Willis before, but she has an... unusual way of telling stories. Basically, she plops us right into her characters brains, and give us access to their every thought. Then she gives them a mystery to solve. Instead of watching someone gather clues and track down a solution, we get to hear them endlessly natter on about what the solution might be, but no, it probably isn't, but maybe if oh, but no. Sometimes, the character will search for hundreds of pages for a particular piece of evidence, thinking it might hold the solution to the whole shebang. But it doesn't. And almost always, that part could just be clipped right out, still leaving you with an entirely respectable 500-page novel. Other times, the character is on the right track, if she could just manage to call a key person and not get a busy signal, answering machine, or unhelpful secretary.This undeniably irritating "style" worked for me in TSNotD and irked me to no end in Doomsday Book (which definitely mashed the "phones are wacky and unpredictable!" button into oblivion). In Passage, it... still kind of bugged me, but when you are unraveling the biggest mystery of all, I guess you are going to have to expect some wheel-spinning. Though it probably didn't need to be in the form of endless descriptions of the maze-like interior of a hospital constantly under construction, or the repeated ramblings of a WWII veteran, or people constantly complaining about a cafeteria that is never open. I mean, it's all lightly amusing, and filled with colorful supporting players, but good grief. Is there an editor in the house?But as I said, some of that is to be expected (and at least some of it turns out to be thematically relevant). Because the mystery Connie Willis is taking on here is death. Technically, near-death experiences -- what they are, what they mean. But really, it's death. The big question that no one will ever answer. Willis certainly doesn't, not even in nearly 800 pages, but she gets so, so close to figuring out what death feels like, or what we imagine it will feel like, or want to hope for. Both for the dying and those who must go on living afterward. Somehow, she accomplishes this while offering several Wikipedia pages worth of detail on brain chemistry, famous last words, and the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic. There's a subject that probably doesn't need another book, and yet it's still a fascinating, harrowing tragedy, meaningful in its meaninglessness, and the perfect centerpiece for a book about the struggle with mortality (no, I'm not going to explain how it fits into the plot). "The perfect metaphor, looming up suddenly out of nowhere in the middle of your maiden voyage, unseen until it is nearly upon you, unavoidable even when you try to swerve, unexpected even though there have been warnings all along." As it is with icebergs, so too is it with car crashes and murders and heart attacks and cancer: if only things had happened a little differently, disaster may have been averted. But only for a little while. Every ship eventually sinks.But hopefully not today.

  • Brownbetty
    2019-02-09 22:03

    This book, about half-way through, does something one may not do half-way through a novel, and then continues, unabashed. I adore it.

  • Scott
    2019-02-09 23:16

    Ugh. I'm sorry, Connie, I like what I've read by you in the past, but I don't think this relationship can go any further. You have some neat ideas, and granted, Doomsday Book was amazing, but dammitall, your writing style is just too unimodal for me. Every single one of your books seems to be filled with this frantic energy of characters rushing around in a frenetic frenzy for several hundred pages; after a while, it just gets tiring. After the three books I've finished, it's just gotten old.I liked your exploration of near death experiences, but it easily could've been 300 pages shorter, and still just as effective. Better luck next time, Connie, but for me, I don't think there will be a next time.

  • Christy
    2019-02-18 21:57

    The premise of this book is interesting. Dr. Joanna Lander, a psychologist, specializes in studying near-death experiences. She teams up with a neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright (which was really distracting for me because I kept thinking of the mid-20th century African American author--this character is nothing like that Richard Wright) who has developed a way to manufacture near-death experiences (NDEs) using drugs. When their volunteer test subjects all disappear for various reasons, Joanna decides to experience an NDE herself to keep the project going. This is where the story gets interesting, and the fact that this doesn't get started until chapter 15 (of 60 chapters), nearly 200 pages into the novel reveals one of the novel's chief flaws. The novel is long. Too long. At 780 pages, this is one of the longest novels I've read in a long while. And while it was compelling for some reason and I really didn't want to stop reading, it was a bit repetitive at the beginning and the end. Early in the book there are myriad mentions of the labyrinthine hospital complex and the fact that the hospital cafeteria is never open. And the last third of the book is in large part watching Dr. Wright and accomplices trying desperately to figure out what Joanna was trying to tell them, trying to figure out something the audience already knows. It's a little frustrating. The novel could definitely have used some editing to make it more concise as well as more approachable. (The fact that I had the time and inclination to read the book in a day doesn't mean that the average reader will be able to have this experience with the book. If I'd had to read it in installments over a longer period of time, I suspect I would have lost interest at more than one point.)That issue aside, however, it is a good book, although I find it hard to say why, other than that the premise really did interest me and the chapter breaks were frequent enough to keep me reading into the next chapter to find out what would happen next. It's not a book about character development, or experimental or beautiful language or structure. It's a seriously plot-driven book. It wants to be a novel of ideas as well, but it doesn't quite succeed at that. It has some interesting ideas, but the plot is ultimately more central to the experience of reading Passage than the ideas are and I left the book with little of value to contemplate, aside from some confusion about how to interpret the final chapter. Ultimately, Joanna (and eventually Richard as well) learns the purpose of the NDE. It is not a portal to "the Other Side" where you will see your family members and angels and Jesus (or whatever deity you prefer) waiting for you. It is not, as Noyes and Linden (real-life theorists) argue, "a result of the human mind's inability to comprehend its own death" (37). Nor is it a "psychological detachment from fear," as Roth (another real-life theorist) argues. Dr. Wright argues instead in the book that "There's no evolutionary advantage to making dying easier or more pleasant" (37). What Joanna eventually discovers is that the NDE is an SOS, the brain sending out signals to the rest of the body, "a last-ditch effort by the brain to jump-start the system" (744). It's "the body's version of a crash team" (744). And the NDE takes a form that will be meaningful for the individual. Like a dream, it plays on the knowledge, experiences, and values of the person having it. For Joanna, who doesn't believe in the dead relatives and Jesus version of the afterlife, her NDE takes the form of the TItanic. It is a metaphor for the experience her body is undergoing. As it dies, the TItanic is sinking. It sends out SOS messages, it sends up flares, it tries to communicate. If the messages get through in time, there is a chance. The body may jump-start itself. Some passengers may be saved. If not, it's the end. Willis's ideas about NDEs are interesting not because I know anything about the actual science of NDEs or because she provides a real answer to this question, but because of what they reflect about her attitude toward death and about many people's attitudes toward death. The near-death experience and the way it is interpreted (since we don't seem to have an absolute answer about this yet) says something about our beliefs about death, the afterlife, and our values. As Joanna is dying (the third section of the book is split fairly evenly between the other characters trying to figure out her final message to them about the way the NDEs work and her own experience of death), she has time to reflect in the NDE, where time is dilated and not linked to real-time. She thinks,"...even the last words of the dying were not messages at all, but only useless echoes of the living. Useless lies. 'I will never leave you,' they said, and then forgot everything in the dark, disintegrating water. 'We will be together again,' and that was the biggest lie of all. There were no fathers waiting on the shining shore. No prophets, no elders, no Angels of Light. No light at all. And they would never be together. She would never see them again, or be able to tell them where she had gone."Willis, then, is presenting a vision of life and of death that is not religious or spiritual or sentimental. You live, you do the best you can, you make a difference if you can, then you die. There is no need to sugarcoat the truth and lie about what happens after death. It is terrifying; that is why so many people cannot face it and instead depend upon images of Jesus waiting to take them into his arms, why so many people see their relatives waiting for them. The terrifying thing about death, as Willis recognizes here, is the loss of identity that accompanies it. Seeing your dead relatives waiting for you, she points out (though I can't find the precise page on which she does so), is comforting because it proves that you are still you. Someone there knows who you are. The confusing thing for me is that although Willis makes this argument very clearly, the final chapter ends the book with a sense of hope. The final chapter opens with an epigraph from C. S. Lewis (a well-known Christian writer) on resurrection: "Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be." Opening the chapter with this quote indicates that "something better will develop," that up to this point we have only been guessing. That much is true. No one really knows what happens after death. We are guessing. But whence this focus on "something better"? At this point, the Titanic (part of Joanna's NDE) has sunk. She is dead. But the Joanna within the NDE survives, clinging to a bit of wreckage and accompanied by a small girl she has named Helen and a French bulldog. As they float there, Joanna is convinced she is about to die, but then a boat appears on the horizon. Not the Carpathia. Not the Mackay-Bennett, which was the ship sent out to pick up the frozen corpses. Instead, the ship that appears is the Yorktown, a WWII ship central to another character's stories, a WWII ship that sank. Joanna attempts to make sense of this new development: "This could be some final synapse firing, some last attempt to make sense of dying and death, some final metaphor. Or something else altogether" (780). As the boat approaches, the sky turns golden as the sun rises. The sailors are coming to rescue them. "Are you scared?" Helen asked. [...] "Are you?" Helen demanded. "Yes," Joanna said. "No. Yes." "I'm scared, too," Helen said. Joanna put her arm around her. The sailors were shouting from the railing, waving their white hats in the air. Behind them, above the tower, the sun came out, blindingly bright, gilding the crosses and the captain. "What if it sinks again?" Helen asked fearfully. "The Yorktown went down at MIdway." Joanna smiled down at her, at the little bulldog, and then looked back at the Yorktown. "All ships sink sooner or later," she said, and raised her hand to wave in greeting. "But not today. Not today."After all the emphasis Willis has placed on the loneliness and finality of death, this ray of sunshine at the end, even if only "some final synapse firing," seems misplaced. I don't know how to feel about it. Despite everything that's been said, death is okay? There is an afterlife? Or Joanna's brain is just easing the transition? Willis does not deal clearly with this hope, nor does she earn it with the rest of the novel.Overall, despite the flaws I've pointed out, it is a good book. It's just not a great book.

  • Clouds
    2019-02-11 21:57

    Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).The opening salvo of my Locus Quest were a bit hit and miss. Accelerando = brilliant!Rainbows End = so-soAnathem = perfect!Passage = ummmm…If you’ve never read any Connie Willis before – Passage probably isn’t the best place to start. And I say that as a fan.I’ve since read To Say Nothing of The Dog and Doomsday Book (and loved them both) but if I hadn’t been working my way through a specific reading list, I’m not sure I’d have given Willis another chance after Passage.It’s not that it’s a bad book:- The characters are likeable- It plays on the heartstrings- There are amusing moments- Some interesting discussions- Memorable use of location- Powerful thematic resonance- Brave plot developmentSo why only two stars?I promise, I’m not naturally stingy with my stars.I wanted to like it.To me, those common elements of Willis’ writing style which work so effectively in her Oxford Time-Travel books (bureaucracy, late messages, tragic death, meandering mystery) act in those stories as a sort of grounding mechanism and counterpoint for the danger or romance of the time-travel adventure. In Passage, the ‘adventure’ is a scientific investigation into markedly morbid terrain and, in my opinion, applying the same techniques just doesn’t work.This time around I found the bureaucracy grating, the late messages petty and the meandering mystery not particularly mysterious and mostly just frustrating.For a sci-fi award winner, there really wasn’t much (any?) in the way of classic sci-fi elements. The ending was vague, symbolic, but ultimately unsatisfying. And for significant periods progress became a sort of grit-your-teeth and trudge.Masie Nellis, the sick 9-yr old girl, is such a loveable and memorable character that she practically earns that second star on her own.But I won’t read this one again. If anybody would like to see if they fare any better, let me know and (for a couple of quid donation to a good cause of your choice) this book can be yours, otherwise Passage is looking at a one-way ticket to the local charity shop.

  • Virginia Messina
    2019-01-24 21:21

    I can’t believe I read this whole book. I swear, every time I picked it up, someone had added another 25 pages to it. I thought about bailing at around page 100, and then again at page 200 and even at page 300! But I loved Doomsday by this same author, and couldn’t bring myself to give up on this one. It’s about near death experiences and the Titanic; how can that combination fail to be interesting? In fact, the story was interesting, but the book was too long by about 200 pages—-mostly due to repeated (and repeated and repeated) minor plot elements that added nothing to the book. The dialogue and interactions among the main characters were absolutely awful and completely unbelievable. And most of the minor characters (the flirtatious nurse, sick kids’ mom-in-denial, celebrity-psychologist) were caricatures and then some. Actually, I remember that the author used a similar style in Doomsday, with over-the-top character parodies, but somehow it was funnier in that book (maybe because they were British?). There is some wonderful writing at the end of the book and very poignant perspectives on life and death. But slogging through 597 pages to get there was not worth it.

  • Sandi
    2019-02-14 17:57

    "Passage" is a remarkable work from a remarkable author. I've read it at least twice and it still blows me away. Willis treats the great question of what happens when we die with humor and sadness. Her treatment of the subject of dementia rang especially true. I had visited my grandmother in the nursing home (many, many miles away) when she was very far gone with senile dementia. She was completely unaware of her surrounding. Some of the things she was saying were eerily echoed in "Passage." I highly recommend this book.

  • Aiyana
    2019-01-27 20:03

    I will repeat my original review of this book here:I cannot, in all good conscience, recommend this novel. You will most likely wind up staying up all night to find out how it ends, and I also don't think it's healthy to hold your breath so long as I did while caught up in the final chapters.This is a brilliant, deeply engaging, philosophical piece of neuroscience-fiction that manages to ponder the Big Questions while maintaining an easy conversational style, numerous moments of both tears and laughter, and characters you will love so much you wish they would come to life.

  • Brendon Schrodinger
    2019-02-05 23:07

    This book made a grown man cry. Granted, deferring to my partner, 'grown man' may be too strong a word, but you get my point. I'm usually cold-hearted and cynical, but Connnie Willis knows how to press my teary buttons.At the time of first reading this I had a great lecturer called Joanna who fit the description of the main character to a tee, leaving me emotionally invested in the story more than the average reader.Moving away from me sobbing like a baby, this is classic Connie Willis. Magnificent characterisation, a plot with so many obstacles it can be frustrating and a touch of weirdness. Well a lot of weirdness, the central mystery is an intriguing one.There is no sci-fi here, technically it is kind of a fantasy novel, set in present time, centreing on two hospital workers investigating (from the sceptical side) near death experiences. So we get to meet some great crackpot characters as well as the usual heart-warming Connie Willis creations.Ranking this book on the Connie Willis spectrum; it's not as good as To Say Nothing of the Dog or Doomsday Books, but it is better than Blackout/ All Clear. Most Connie Willis fans should love it despite the themes being different from her norm.Despite this book not being my favourite Connie Willis it is still damn good 5-star material. I loved it, even though it broke my heart.

  • Althea Ann
    2019-01-25 22:06

    Connie Willis excels at meshing humorously satirical commentary on interpersonal relationships with insights into the human condition that are so true they almost hurt. In 'Passage,' Joanna Lander is a researcher at a large hospital investigating near-death experiences. Her work is complicated by the difficulty of interviewing people who are near-death, but especially by the new-age charlatan who insists on being considered her colleague, Dr. Mandrake. Much of Joanna's time consists of trying to avoid Mandrake, but then she meets Dr. Wright, who has found a way, he believes, to simulate the near-death experience using drugs. Intrigued, Joanna joins him on his project - but a comedy of errors results in the project having not nearly enough volunteers, and Joanna herself decides to go under, and experience the NDE. Gradually, the mood changes from comedic to an increasingly frantic, obsessive, chaotic experience, as Joanna believes she is discovering truths about the NDE - but strangely, her experiences all seem to be tied to the Titanic disaster. People can't go to the sinking Titanic when they die - can they? She has the elusive feeling that she is missing some vital connection, always just on the edge of her consciousness.

  • Eliza
    2019-02-16 16:02

    This book left me reeling- it forces you to confront your own mortality. When I finished the book, I literally just laid on my bed with my eyes wide open. I suggested it to a friend, but she it found it "too difficult" to get into. If you're up for a deeply moving experience, I cannot recommend this book enough.

  • Dane
    2019-01-30 23:01

    It would be fair, I think, to say that Connie Willis has a formula. Take a well educated 30ish year old trying to solve an unsolveable scientific mystery. While trying avoid an incredibly annoying coworker/family member/etc, they meet a similarly inclined professional of the opposite sex who they join forces with. Armed with a general disdain for the absurdities of contemporary society and a somewhat uncanny knowledge of classic literature, they spend several hundred pages trying to piece together the clues which will reveal the hidden mysteries of life. Generally this works by one of the protagonists hearing some innocuous comment from a secondary character, which makes them think of some historical event from around the turn of the 20th century, which in turn reminds of them something that a third character said a hundred pages earlier, and then ties together with something that the other protagonist was musing over, possibly by way of a Gilbert and Sullivan reference, but then when they try to tell the other protagonist of their revelation, they're stymied by a farcical number of missed phone calls, undelivered notes, and general misunderstandings. Rinse and repeat until the book is a probably a bit longer than it really needed to be, and you've got the basic outline of a Connie Willis novel.So yeah, there's a formula. But the thing is, she does it really, *really* well. She sucks you right in, and you don't mind that the book feels really familiar, and then when you think you've got everything figured out, and wonder how there could possibly be another 200 pages, she twists things just enough that you realize you probably won't be going to bed for at least another 3 chapters. And yeah, maybe it still is a bit too long, and maybe some of the deductive leaps that the characters make are a bit implausible, but that's fine. It's wonderful writing, with wonderful characters, and you'll laugh, and you'll cry, and you learn a bunch about whatever personal obsession Willis decided to write her book around, and not regret a moment of it. It's formulaic, but it's also unique, and I hope she never stops writing.

  • Beth
    2019-02-02 19:20

    Only Connie Willis could make me love a science-fiction novel about two doctors researching near-death experiences and their potential medical scope. The entire book is a buildup to a metaphor about life and death and grief, and when, about two thirds of the way through, Willis connects the threads and the metaphor comes together, the story proceeds in a way I could never have predicted, a way that's daring and gutwrenching and the only way she could possibly have taken her story.Passage - because it's so brave, and because it's so real - isn't an easy read. But it is a worthwhile one.

  • Danica
    2019-02-04 17:05

    haven't read a book that knocked the breath out of me like this one did in approximately, like, an eon. cerebral, intensely emotional, + passages of airtight suspense. i feel like i raved about the last willis book i read, too. didn't i? (my account's nifty already-read backlog tells me that i indeed did.) yes, the author could've shaved off a hundred pages or three, and the har-har elbowed joke of a supporting character cast (all! of them! stereotyped to the last dotted i and crossed t!) got pretty old after 700 pages of detecktifying. but. BUT. maybe i am jaded and made a crabby cynic by today's pantheon of contemporary literature luminaries -- but this book, which is built around a sci-fi premise, felt like a slap of cold water after all those snooty literary navelgazers, oh my god. to maintain suspense over the aforementioned 700 pages and to keep the reader in relentless page-turning mode over the same number of pages is no small feat. and yeah, the plot took a careening, breathless 180 -- /twice/. i spent the last third of the book bursting sporadically into tears. philosophical issues, death and loss and loneliness, of having the strength to move on after terrible tragedies, yeah it may sound silly and maxed out on the cheese but lemme tell you this book made me afraid of death which /nothing/ does, to say the least the last time i sat in a darkened room watching a drivers' safety video with a dozen other dozing high schoolers.maybe the thing i loved about it the best was that this was a reverent, down-on-the-knees tribute to literature enacted by a couple of scientists -- that literature and science were melded so artfully in its thematic DNA. A++ for that. A++ in general. except for the christian revivalist quacks. anything but christian revivalist quacks.

  • Francesca
    2019-01-28 17:57

    I went to the library to check out Willis' Doomsday, but this was the only Connie Willis book available...There's a reason for that. It was awful.The plot plods along and, as mentioned before, the running gags are not only referenced too frequently, but they don't lend anything worthwhile to the story. The cafeteria's always closed, hallways are constantly being painted, Joanna never remembers to eat lunch but Richard's lab coat is magically a vending machine, poorly written comedy ensues... yeah, we get it.The characters are painfully one-dimensional, like caricatures. There is a character, Maisie, who is supposed to be a child, probably 6-10 years old, and the dialogue Willis gives her is painful. Nobody speaks like that, let alone a child in 2001 (when the book was written). Seriously, who uses the word "crummy" for anything?? (Or mentions deviled ham dip again and again, for that matter.)Another problem is that Dr. Joanna Landers and her associate Dr. Wright both seem to be physically unable to end a conversation, even if they're in a hurry. Make that, "especially if they are in a hurry." There are pages and pages of this book devoted to Joanna or Richard thinking, "Ugh! I really must leave!" "I am running so late!" "Why won't he stop talking to me, I wish I could escape!"It's maddening. I realize it probably bothers me especially, because it sums up my relationship with this book. The writing is sloppy. The plot is dull. It is poorly edited... and yet, like Joanna and Richard, I couldn't end the conversation. I wanted to give the book the benefit of the doubt; my hope was that Willis would get it together in the end and blow me away.She didn't. Don't read this book--it's too long to be worth it. Save yourself!

  • Kim
    2019-01-25 20:25

    I've read a few Connie Willis books now. And I've come to a conclusion. She's out to fuck with us. And she needs a better editor. The premise and core concept of this book are great. And I wanted to finish it because I had to know how it ended. But it was a torturous journey. This book reminded me very much of Doomsday Book, also by Connie Willis, in that so much could have been solved by people just talking plainly and picking up the god damn phone. It felt like 90% of this book was caused by people avoiding other people, failing to leave a clear message, not answering the phone, or not talking to one another. And that apart from a little girl the majority of the cast were spineless pushovers. So very, very frustrating. This book gave me anxiety because I wanted to reach out and slap all the characters. Why does she do this? She can't even use the Doomsday Book excuse of it being released prior to cell phones being common. Also the book was just too long. It had a lot of filler, and the ending just dragged on and on. Just trimming it down and tightening it up would have pushed it up a star. At the end of it this book does have a lot to ponder on. But is it worth pushing through to get it? Probably not.

  • Beth
    2019-02-19 21:12

    "I must go in, the fog is rising." -- Emily Dickinson's last words "Why, man, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist--" -- American Civil War General John Sedgwick's last words, at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse "I beg your pardon, monsieur. I did not mean to do it." -- Marie Antoniette, after she had accidentally stepped on the executioner's foot while mounting the guillotine "Oh, sh!t." -- Last words found on the majority of flight recorders recovered after plane crashes "I shall hear in heaven." -- Beethoven's last words Of the many well-researched and interesting details included in this novel, my favorite is that each new chapter starts out with a quote from a famous person near death. They range from the humorous to the heartbreaking to the ironic, and each suits the chapter it introduces perfectly. Each quote adds to the power of this novel to make the reader think. Think about what we avoid thinking and talking about often to absurd extremes, despite the fact that it is the one certainty in life, and what happens when we all make that final passage. Passage by Connie Willis is not a morbid book, despite the subject matter, nor is it a horror story along the lines of Flatliners. It is a fascinating novel that explores the concept of near death experiences (NDEs). Are these phenomena spiritual events? Purely biological firings of a dying brain? Both? Or perhaps something else entirely? If you are interested in such musings, enjoy an intelligently written story and are open minded about what NDEs might mean, this book is excellent reading. NDEs as science versus divine vision Set in the present day, Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist studying NDEs by interviewing hospital patients who have recently "coded" or temporarily lost all vital signs. She is constantly trying to interview patients before a colleague at the same hospital, a Mr. Mandrake, can interview them. Mandrake does his best to manipulate the patients' memories of the NDE to fit his own doctrine of NDEs -- a trite vision aptly described by one character in the book as a heaven composed of Precious Moments figurines. Joanna herself holds no firm beliefs of what NDEs are or represent, she only wants to get as close to the objective truth as possible. A new scientist at the hospital, Dr. Richard Wright, has discovered a way to chemically induce NDEs, and he asks Joanna to work with him. Richard believes his study will prove these phenomena to be strictly biological rather than spiritual. Problems finding enough suitable patients for the study eventually result in Joanna herself volunteering to take the simulated near death journey herself, and she finds herself caught up in a tantalizing puzzle...Is what she sees real? Or is it indeed only the random firings of the dying brain? (I will say no more for fear of ruining the story.) Characters from the intriguingly complex to the annoyingly cardboard Joanna is an admirable, likable and sympathetic character, as are Richard, Joanna's best friend Vielle (an ER nurse at the hospital), Masie (a young girl in need of a heart transplant with a fascination for disaster stories), and a host of other characters that become part of the story line. There are a couple of characters in contrast who are not developed at all, who are portrayed as 100 percent negative. The aptly named Mr. Mandrake and one of his converts are so relentlessly annoying that Joanna spends a significant amount of time in the novel attempting to avoid them. Their broken-record personalities got very tedious to read about after a while. The editor should be given a good talking to Probably the biggest fault of this book -- and the reason I cannot give it five stars despite so many strengths -- is the overly detailed accounts of Joanna's investigation and slow -- and I mean S L O W -- piecing together of clues that will lead her to a conclusion about the meaning of NDEs. While the realistic detailing of solving the mystery is admirable, Willis falters here by frustrating the reader for too long and losing too much momentum. While I remained determined to read through and find out what would happen, I was very disappointed throughout a big chunk of the book. It does pick up again, and become even more compelling, but my resentment of those slow, plodding (and repetitive) chapters lingered. Overall, a fascinating read, although not perfect The story is intelligent, compelling, detailed (a bit too much at times), and as is often the case with Willis's novels, it includes a bit of romance as well. There are a few cardboard characters, but far more interesting ones. The descriptions of the world of near death experiences are often fascinating and moving. Willis also has a habit of reflecting the central theme of her story quite directly in the physical setting, and this book is no exception. The hospital where the majority of the story takes place is a convoluted maze of hallways and stairwells reminiscent of the complexity of the human brain. While there is a certain level of predictability through some of the story, there are many surprises, too. Overall this novel is a very good read, well worth plodding through the slower parts for, and a story that is not easily forgotten.

  • Ian
    2019-02-08 23:19

    I don't know what to say about this book. I feel like it deserves a review, and yet I feel like it deserves better than I can give it. Passage takes place in those four-to-six minutes that start when a brain loses oxygen and end when the dying brain cells can no longer hold on ... and the person’s consciousness slips beyond the point of no return. What does one say about that time, that time which we all must experience sooner or later, and ultimately must experience alone, as the human mind struggles to comprehend the incomprehensible? Connie Willis knew what to say about it. She had a lot to say about it, and she said it better than I could.

  • Stephanie
    2019-02-04 15:15

    OMG!!!!Finally!!!!!AFter all this time!!!!Whew!!!! Yes, this is my way of saying, "Holy Shit! This book was in serious need of a competent editor." 700 pages...over 16000 locations on my much unnecessary repetition. This would have been a good, to the point, great read at about 425 pages. The author was allowed to just go on...and on....and on...and on...exhausting! Also, way too much medical jargon. She had the doctors giving too much dialog about RIPT scans and all the different drugs and effects and honestly, I feel like a neurologist just from reading the book :)So, good stuff, however too long and too drawn out and too much unnecessary information.2.5 stars

  • Tressa
    2019-02-02 22:24

    This one of few books I have read that stayed with me long after I read the last page. The theme of the book that we come into this world alone and will leave alone echoed Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel.I agree that some of the hospital maze scenes do get tedious, but I was white-knuckled as Joanna tracked down the NDE of her subjects. The last few paragraphs are very sad and poignant.

  • Mike
    2019-02-23 18:06

    I’ve come to realize that my expectations of what to expect from Connie Willis are pretty permanently off-kilter. My first Willis book was To Say Nothing of the Dog. It’s a delightful and loving tribute to both Victorian comedies of manners and Golden Age mystery novels, and I consider it the funniest book I’ve ever read, surpassing even Douglas Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett. (GNU) And as a result of this, despite having read the several-hundred-pages-long punch to the stomach that was The Doomsday Book I always expect something fun and funny from Connie Willis.I didn’t get that with Passage.This is a book about death. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say it’s a book about dying. Expected deaths after long, full lives; sudden deaths that strike down people well before their time; the heartbreak of watching an old man die by inches with Alzheimer’s; the heartbreak of a young girl slowly degrading as her and her family wait for another person to die so she can get a new heart. And of course all the people they leave behind.The book stars Joanna, a psychologist studying near-death experiences (the light at the end of the trouble and all that), who teams up with Richard, a neurologist who has discovered a way to induce such an experience in a laboratory. They’re trying to do some real science to find what is happening at the moment of death, and what exactly is causing these disturbingly realistic visions. Filling out the cast are Vielle, Joanna’s best friend who is an ER nurse; Kit, who is caring for her elderly uncle, Joanna’s old English teacher; Mr. Mandrake, who has written a best-selling book about near death experiences “proving” the existence of life after death (and keeps interviewing people before Joanna can, thus rendering them useless for a legit scientific study); and Maisie, a sick little girl who needs a new heart.So like I said, this is a book about dying. The book really starts going once Richard and Joanna decide to induce a near death experience in Joanna, reasoning her to be the ideal observer of what happens. Which she is, but she also becomes more and more obsessed with finding out the “truth” behind what’s going on when she goes under. Her experiences reminded me quite a lot of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, actually. And appropriately, since Kate Winslet starred in that and Titanic features prominently in this book.While this isn’t a happy book, it is nevertheless a heartwarming one, and very much worth the reading.

  • Hana
    2019-02-11 15:12

    I cannot believe I am giving one star to a book written by Connie Willis. Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog are two of my all-time favorite novels--and I'm not even narrowing that down to sci-fi. But this was just a mess. One of the recurring themes in Willis' novels seems to be institutional and technological dysfunction. In Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, this is kept within bounds and is mildly amusing. People keep missing each other, playing endless telephone tag, etc. But in Passage the confusion goes on for hundreds--and I mean HUNDREDS--of pages. Passage is like one of those tiresome dreams where you are wandering around lost, looking for something or someone, having that feeling that you are running late but you can't remember for what. And you can't wake up. Maybe that's a deliberate commentary on dying and life after death ("...for in that sleep of death what dreams may come....") but I kept thinking it it was all just a crashing bore. I kept going hoping for the clever twist the jacket blurb promised me. *Sigh* J.K. Rowling put it all far more concisely and effectively in the famous scene with Harry and Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.“Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

  • Kristin
    2019-01-30 21:56

    I FINISHED IT. Why did I finish it? I don't know. This book was unbelievably repetitive. The characters weren't fully-formed. It was repetitive. Passage took about 700 pages to decide what it wanted to be. It needed to be at least 300 pages shorter.Things Willis should have cut: the heavy foreshadowing about rogue, anything to do with the cafeteria, Mr. Mandrake, Mr. Wojakowski (or at least his endless, repetitive anecdotes), medical acronyms used repeatedly without explanation (we don't need to know every single thing that people say or think), Dr. Wright's magic pockets that produce an insane amount of food... I could go on, but I'm not the editor. And hey, did you know Maisie isn't your average little girl? Did you? DID YOU? Because it will be pounded into your head. She doesn't like The Sound of Music, see! How unusual!Hey, is the cafeteria closed? Is it hard to navigate the hospital? Will Joanna and Vielle discuss their damn Dish Night about seventeen hundred times? (Hey, watching movies on a regular basis is almost a character trait, right? No?) You will be reminded of those things over and over and over.Also, many scenes transitioned extremely oddly. For example, a character asks Joanna a question, and Joanna thinks of the answer the next day in another location without any transition whatsoever. In the same paragraph. It was jarring every time.The basic premise of Passage is interesting. I want to like it. Parts of the book were even decent, but it took about 700 pages to get there.

  • Maria
    2019-02-20 19:15

    3.5 stars if I could give them. I loved the entire second half of the book, loved the ideas, the plot twist, the ending, the imagery in the NDEs, and Joanna's revelation about what her NDE really means - all of that really spoke to me, especially considering that she seems to have the same views about death as I do - but the characterization, and the writing in the first half of the book just weren't as good as I know Willis can do. It's like she was in such a huge rush to get her ideas about death out on paper that she didn't have the patience to set up her characters properly. Plus, there is a lot of redundancy in the writing - to a certain extent I think that's meant to echo the process of the NDE, but it's only half-successful, unfortunately, and definitely not as well-written as her historians' obsessive, frustrated attempts to figure out slippage. Basically, this book needed another draft and a better editor, and then it would've been fantastic. On the other hand, the writing stopped bugging me after about 300 pages and it took me only two nights to inhale the other 480 pages, plus I cried at the end (it was the French bulldog's frightened eyes that did me in), so she must've been doing something right.

  • James M. Madsen, M.D.
    2019-02-16 17:02

    First things first: This is a spoiler-free review. And if you're considering reading "Passage," don't read the Wikipedia article about it first; that article includes in passing a spoiler for the most significant plot twist in the book, about three-quarters of the way through the tale."Passage" focuses on two researchers (Joanna Lander and Richard Wright) of near-death experiences (NDEs), on their subjects and friends (especially a sharp-as-a-tack nine-year-old cardiac patient, Maisie, and Joanna's former high-school English teacher, now with Alzheimer's), on a charlatan NDE author, and on the NDEs themselves--what they might be, what they could represent, how they work. Joanna and Richard are stymied at almost every point not just by the difficulties of investigating a controversial and difficult-to-explain phenomenon but also by the myriad vicissitudes of daily life in a maze of a hospital and by uncooperative or unreliable subjects. Willis's trademark device (also on display in "Doomsday Book") of highlighting maddeningly frustrating people and situations (especially the difficulty scheduling subjects, subjects that are either too voluble or too laconic, and the warren of passageways in the hospital) is on full view in "Passage." Some have said that it goes too far, and I myself found it irritating here. But I think that Willis *means* for it to irritate us; our frustration means that she's been successful in reminding us of how often in our own lives thick things are at the mercy of thin ones. These annoyances are not only exasperating but also slow down the pace of the novel, especially in the middle. But I'm one of those who like good novels to be long ones--the more pages that are left, the longer I get to enjoy the read! (I'm reminded of 'Ali ibn al-Jahm: "If I find a book agreeable and enjoyable, and if I deem it to be beneficial, you will see me hour after hour checking how many pages are left, from fear of being close to the end. If it has many volumes with a great number of pages, my life is complete and my happiness total.") And it's not until late in the novel that we see that the frustrations are also part of a larger metaphor of paths trying to be taken, of messages trying to get through.The length of the novel also gave me time to get acquainted with the characters so gradually that when the pace quickened later on I realized how very much I had come to care for them. I happened to read Ursula K. Le Guin's short and spare "The Lathe of Heaven" while I was reading "Passage," which is a Mahler to Le Guin's Sibelius in "Lathe." (In a famous exchange, Sibelius said that a symphony needed to be a parable; Mahler, known for his long symphonies, insisted that it needed to encompass the world. I love both Sibelius and Mahler, and each of them had a point.) Both novels are about a researcher trying (with, in each story, the aid of a machine) to understand and influence a difficult-to-characterize state of consciousness (in "Lathe," it's "effective dreaming"). And I loved "Lathe" and gave it five stars here on Goodreads. But "Passage," partly because of Willis's skill but also partly because of its length, drew me in even more in some ways than "Lathe" did. "Passage" has its faults, but the ways in which Willis weaves together even initially seemingly unrelated threads into her grand pattern, and the eventual fates of her characters, are so far above a five here that my summed final grade has to be a five. It's not just Joanna and Richard; even the minor characters are sharply drawn. And very little gets past Maisie, who is an absolute delight. I can understand why Locus science-fiction critic Gary Wolfe writes that she "owns the spiritual center of the novel," although my vote is still for Richard and especially Joanna. (And I second Jo Walton's opinion that "[t]he chapter from Maisie's point of view after she has been lied to is one of the best things Willis has ever written . . .".) I feel as if I really know all these people, and I miss them already. Just as in "Doomsday Book" and "Lincoln's Dreams," Willis also gives us fascinating historical detail (here, of the Titanic, the Yorktown, the Hindenburg, the Hartford circus fire, the Great Molasses Flood, and famous and not-so-famous last words). My reaction to what happens at and after the stunner three-quarters of the way through the story reminded me in all the right ways of how I felt at the end of her "Doomsday Book" (set largely in 1348 England during the Black Death)--in the words of Emily Dickinson, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes. The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs." And the ending of "Passage" ties up loose ends from one perspective but is satisfyingly ambiguous from another.All in all, this is one of those books that I loved so much that I was sad to finish it, although I hope that it won't be the last time that I read it! A thoughtful book, with a compelling and believable plot (in part a mystery peppered with clues that were there from the very beginning and that I now want to go back to appreciate in context), artful exposition of its central metaphor (and a lovely incorporation of literary support for that theme from Joanna's memories of her high-school English teacher and from what comes from him despite his Alzheimer's), and vivid and unforgettable characterization. Highly recommended!

  • Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
    2019-01-29 22:12

    Connie Willis is one of my fave sci-fi, she writes time travel sooooo well. :D

  • Suzanne (Doppleganger)
    2019-01-31 22:57

    I'm going to be contemplating this book for a while. Passage one of those stories that lingers with you long after you read it. Part I For such a long book, it took very little time for me to ramp up and become involved with the characters and plot. I loved all the characters, even Mr. Mandrake the NDEvangelist. Well, I loved the way he sent Richard and Joanna scurrying away into stairwells, elevators, etc. There may not be anything likable about Mr. Mandrake, but he is beautifully crafted and I love the way his character contributes to the plotline. The hospital itself seemed like a character, with its ever changing construction zones and mish-mash construction. I worked in a hospital for 2 summers when I was a student and it was also constructed from several separate buildings all connected together. Some elevators only went to certain floors, then you'd have to take a walkway over to another elevator bank to get to the next floor up. Mercy General is even worse, but it seemed familiar and I got a few chuckles out of Richard getting lost. Even more chuckles from the complicated instructions he got whenever he asked how to get somewhere. Part II I do think that Part II dragged on a bit much. I thought Joanna went under for the NDE experiments too many times, and I found myself skimming through much of her NDE experiences even though I knew there were important clues in them. Part III / overall This book was painful to read at times. I kept hoping things would go differently, but Willis doesn't let anything come easily. Not just for the characters, but for the reader! I wanted the Briarly in Joanna's NDE's to be real, for Richard's mad dash up to his lab to be successful, for Coma Carl to talk to Richard, for Joanna to get closure, etc. But even so, I felt surprisingly satisfied by the ending.

  • Etienne
    2019-02-14 18:10

    Un livre complexe, qui va bien au-delà (sans mauvais jeu de mots) du livre dit de science-fiction. On y traite d'une multitude de sujets comme la mort, l'amour, la maladie, la vie après la mort, la médecine, etc. Les personnages sont vraiment attachants, surtout Maisie, et on apprécie de seulement passer du temps en leur compagnie. L'intrigue va un peu à gauche et à droite en même temps (intrigue multiple également, la maladie de Maisie, les recherches sur les EMI, ainsi que le parcours et la vie de Joanna) pour finalement nous offrir une fin qui en est plus ou moins une, mais comment aurait-on pu terminer ce livre? la question est bien embêtante et quand on s'y penche, on réalise que l'auteur a fait un assez bon travail. Il y a aussi quelques longueurs par moment, le contraire aurait été suprenant dans un livre de plus de 900 pages. Pour conclure, ce livre est un grand roman avec un côté très littéraire, bien que le style ne soit pas particulièrement flamboyant et qu'il y a quelques petites lacunes, littéraire dans le sens où l'on vit avec les personnages, on réfléchie avec eux et on passe un bon moment et les intrigues sont diverses ce qui fait que l'on ne peut aboutir à une conclusion typique (comme dans un roman policier par exemple) dans laquelle la fin est ici et claire parce qu'on passait simplemet de A à B.J'ai bien aimé! Un livre différent et originale à plusieurs niveaux!

  • Michael
    2019-02-24 15:08

    This 2001 novel shows the same sprawl and bloat as in her latest two novels, leaving me yearning for the slim brilliance of her slightly earlier "Bellwether" and "To Say Nothing of the Dog". Here she flies with a creative idea of a female psychologist, Joanna, and a male neurologist teaming up to elucidate why the brain generates a relatively common set of experiences in near-death situations. That an experimental drug might help research by simulating the patterns engaged in the "Near Death Experience" was also an imaginative device. But the whole endeavor drags along for about 400 pages before it picks up some steam, and even then there is some limping in the second four hundred pages. Maisie's enthusiasm for disasters like the Titanic, the Hindenberg, and the Hartford Circus Fire helps the story gel around the brutal randomness by which death often arrives and the humanity behind the heroic efforts of some to help others escape what seems unescapable. Another plus is fascinating theme (in chapter headings and dialog) of famous people's last words before dying. But these strengths are outweighed by way too much superfluous narrative.

  • Laurel
    2019-02-21 22:03

    So far this has been disappointing--I REALLY want to like it!It's about this psychologist-nerd lady who studies Near Death Experiences with this hot MD who replicates the NDE with medications. Psych Nerd starts to self-experiment when they can't get enough subjects to participate. It's taken 200 pages to get to her first self-experiment and that is FAR too long. I can't take 200 pages of silly banter and cheesiness before the action starts. There is way too much detail about the scientific process that has no bearing on the narrative. I guess Willis is trying to come across as authentic when all she is doing is boring me. Anyway, it has so much potential that I might keep going. I am a sci-fi novice so I might be judging against the wrong standards perhaps?