Best of 2001

Gross Family argross at
Sat Jan 19 09:14:11 EST 2002

> On Fri, 18 Jan 2002 02:02:33 +1100, Gross Family wrote:
> >OK, here's the question I want to ask you. Important spoilers coming.
> >
> >
> >
> >S
> >P
> >O
> >I
> >L
> >E
> >R
> >S
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> >Did you think that the implication was that Joanne's consciousness only
> >continued until she managed to get the message across to Richard--that
> >experience after death followed the same timeline of what was happening
> >her friends in the living world--or do you think the implication is that
> >consciousness goes on after that, too?

Melissa replied:

> My interpretation was that all of the events on the ship--the whole time
> she's trying to find a way out, and the exits gradually disappear or are
> blocked--were what happened simultaneously with Richard trying to contact
> her, and that the very end indicated that she'd entered some kind of
> afterlife.

Yes, that makes sense. As she herself realises, the dying person keeps
trying to get an SOS message to the brain, which is translated by images of
trying different escape routes, but in the end of course Joanna dies, so
that does seem to fit.

> > I was discussing this with a friend,
> >and we both felt confused by the fact that time seems to flow at a
> >rate for Joanna after her death and the living world, so that the reader
> >can't be sure that her message gets across at the same time as Richard
> >'gets' it. Also, we both felt that it was unclear whether Joanna's
> >consciousness continues after she gets the message across, but we also
> >felt that Willis was leaving that possibility open--refusing to give a
> >definitive answer, but sort of saying 'maybe', and also at the same time
> >saying, 'yes, but it's totally different from anything you--or Joanna
> >herself--could imagine." Do you (or Melissa, or anyone else who's read
> >book) agree?
> I think the ambiguity exists to allow different readers, with different
> belief systems, to interpret it any way they feel most comfortable.  I
> especially think Willis wasn't trying to say, definitively, "this is what
> happens after you die."  It's open-ended for a reason.  I remember that
> first time I read it, I thought it was a sad ending; then I re-read the
> final section and realized it was a happy ending.  There are no solid
> answers.

I don't think Willis is being open-ended and ambiguous to allow for
different interpretations so much as she simply wants to say "No-one can
possibly know what happens after death; whatever it is, it's *not* what we
think it is." I think I may be saying more or less what you're saying,
actually! :-)

 > >The other thing we were confused by is the fact that Willis has that
> >wonderful, poignant, heartbreaking description of Joanna's memories
> >disappearing one by one, but the next thing you know, she still has those
> >memories! What did you make of that?
> Going from my theory that yes, Joanna's existence continues after death, I
> thought of it as how she passes into that afterlife existence.  The
> implication of the NDE in _Passage_ is that death is a struggle even if
> you're not conscious--that people (maybe only certain people) won't let go
> of life easily.  The shutting-down effect, the losing one's memories,
> me as a method for essentially prying Joanna's fingers off the ledge of
> life, which allows her to fall into the next one.

Yes...she has to completely let go of her life, of whatever is familiar to
her, before she can enter whatever comes after, which will be something
totally different and unfamiliar.

> I didn't love _Passage_ as much as I loved Willis's other books, mainly
> because I'm not really interested in NDE's (make that actively annoyed by
> them, but that's irrelevant to this discussion) and because in several
> places I was aware of phrases and descriptions that had been recycled from
> her other books.  It kept me from really falling into it.  Still a good
> book, and one I'll re-read eventually.

The only other books of her I've read are _Bellwether_ and _To Say Nothing
of the Dog_; I didn't notice any recycled phrases etc., but I certainly did
notice the repetition of certain themes. That didn't worry me in itself.
Perhaps it's more _Doomsday Book_ and other heavier stuff that's similar?

Interesting discussion--thanks, Melissa.

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