Bellwether was the first full-length novel by Connie Willis I read after finishing her Cambridge Time Travel series. One of the rare book that grabbed me from page one … really, from sentence one … in the process of rereading it I realized that this isn’t a science fiction book. It’s just a very good book. A very funny book.
Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years but never understood. Neither its literal meaning or social implications.
It was the bellwether and sheep connection I had never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.
A bellwether is the leader of the sheep, the ewe who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason a bellwether is the leader of the flock. She just is. There is something about her that other sheep sense, but is invisible to us. Regardless, whatever the bellweather does, all the other sheep do too. They will follow her mindlessly, blindly. Moreover, the flock is unaware they are following the bellwether. They just do it.
The book is laugh out loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal abilities.
Bellwether carries a not-so-subtle message that’s a little disturbing. The parallels between humans and a flock of sheep — the running theme of the story — explains much of human behavior and not in a flattering way.
It explains a lot of events throughout history that never made sense. Even after you understand what happened and (sort of) why … they still don’t make sense. Everything just happened. Because someone copied someone else and the rest of the sheep followed.
Human life, history and relationships are not logical or reasonable. They happen. Human society is the epitome of chaos and the only predictable thing is unpredictability.
I found Bellwether wonderfully original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking.
And hilarious. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book than to be entertained, amused and enlightened. I recommend it both in its printed and audio versions. Both are delightful and memorable. This is a book you will read and remember. Then, just because … read it again.