Sunday, February 25, 2018

To Say Nothing of the Dog: Connie Willis

Ned Henry, a historian working in the Time Travel department at Oxford, has made too many trips to 1940 in search of the Bishop's bird stump, and has been prescribed a week or two in Victorian England to get some rest and relaxation. He thinks he is there to recuperate, but really he has a new mission to pursue, and he has no time to relax.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is at once an adventure story and a romance, with time travel thrown in. It is the second novel in the Oxford Time Travel series. I am reading that series in the order of publication, but from what I have read, the first two novels can stand alone. I read Doomsday Book first. Where Doomsday Book was sad, To Say Nothing of the Dog is humorous with some elements of a mystery and more than one romance.

This book alternates between 2050, when time travel is possible and used by academics for studies of the past, and Victorian times (1888), with a couple of short trips to the 1940's (all set in England). The focus in this book is finding the Bishop's bird stump, which is an ornamental piece that once existed in the Coventry Cathedral. The Oxford time travelers are more interested in learning  history than finding this piece, but they continue the quest for the Bishop's bird stump because Lady Schrapnell's donation will keep the time travel project funded.

I loved this book just as much as Doomsday Book. They each have their strengths. In my opinion, the characterization is not as strong in this book as in Doomsday Book, but there were still very many interesting characters: Ned Henry and Verity Kindle are the primary time travelers in this book, but some of the secondary characters in the Victorian timeline are a lot of fun: Tocelyn "Tossie" Mering, an ancestor of Lady Schrapnell, and Baine, the butler in the Mering household; Mrs. Mering who is into spiritualism, and Colonel Mering, who collects exotic goldfish.

This book is more frenetic, and has much better pacing than Doomsday Book. In fact at times it can get confusing. I may have zoned out during sections of the book, but I had confidence at all times that it would be worth the read and that the story would come together to a satisfying ending. Which it did.

Another thing I especially loved about this book were the animals. A bulldog named Cyril and a cat named Princess Arjumand are very special characters. Although this is a humorous book throughout, it was the scenes with Cyril and the cat, especially toward the beginning of the book, that made me laugh out loud. In the near future world of this book, where time travel is possible but not perfected, cats are extinct. A disease has killed them off. So the time travelers are both charmed by the cat and so unused to the behavior of cats that they don't know how to deal with them.

With regards to the title, there are references to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat in this novel, but not having read that book, the references did not mean that much to me. There are also references to Golden Age mysteries and to other authors but, to be truthful, I am sure I missed the majority of those references. Regardless I enjoyed the story immensely. I think that the references add another layer of interest for those who appreciate them.

And what comes next? Blackout and All Clear are two very long books that are connected. From what I have read, we once again meet with Dr. Dunworthy and his time travel team and Colin Templar who was just a boy in Doomsday Book. Members of the team go back to various locations and events in World War II. Reading these books will be an ambitious undertaking -- they are both very long -- but I am looking forward to it.

I did not go into much detail about the story so if you want to read more about that and read other opinions, see these sources:



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Publisher:   Bantam Books / Spectra, 1998 (orig. publ. 1997)
Length:      434 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Oxford Time Travel, #2
Setting:      England 
Genre:       Time Travel
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.


16 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Me too, Janet. I am sure I will reread it someday.

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  2. Ah, I didn't realise there was a connection between this and The Domesday Book. Is it necessary to read that before To Say Nothing of the Dog do you think? I have both but was planning to read TSNotD first, soonish to be honest after your excellent review.

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    1. Cath, many reviews I read say that they have read the books out of order, and especially with those two I see little connection. There are one or two characters in common but there are no plot points (that I remember) that would mean that they had to be read in order. To Say Nothing of the Dog is much more fun. Upbeat. Both can be frustrating at times.

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  3. I have heard about these books for years, but never taken the time for them. I should. It's interesting that time travel is available in 2050 in the book. That's a lot closer now than it was in 1997. Who knows? LOL

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    1. That did surprise me too, Kay. I guess the way technology is moving so fast these days, it might be possible. The length of the books was initially a deterrent for me, but so many people recommended them I thought I should try them. And except for the first one, Doomsday Book, my husband had copies already so I did not have to look around for them.

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  4. Like Kay, I've never read these books, Tracy. But this one does sound intriguing. Speculative fiction, when it's done well, can be fantastic. And I have to say: I love the title.

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    1. I knew I was taking a chance on these books, Margot. In addition to lots of recommendations, some people really don't like these books. So I just had to try one to see if they worked for me.

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  5. I love Connie Willis' time travel and greatly enjoyed this. But I loved Blackout and All Clear even more. Do read them back-to-back.

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    1. That is my plan, Debbie. I hope to read Blackout in March and All Clear soon after that. I saw your thoughts on the books at your blog.

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  6. Some nice little side trips in To Say Nothing of the Dog.

    Yes, be prepared to read it again, after Blackout/All Clear.

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    1. I am looking forward to it, Susan. I was rereading a bit of the book when I returned it to my husband last night and thinking I could re-read it right away. But... also looking forward to Blackout and All Clear, which will take me a while to get through.

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  7. Glad you enjoyed it, but I don't think this is an author for me.

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    1. I agree, Col, and anyway you have plenty of books to read instead. I am glad there is someone out there with as many (or more) books on the TBR pile as I have.

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  8. I did like this book, but with reservations, not as much as you did, and I thought it was too long. But am still thinking I might read another by her some time- are there any short ones?

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    1. Moira, I looked around and it seems that only two of her books are a normal length. Lincoln's Dreams and Bellwether, and I know nothing about either one. I like her writing well enough I could end up reading all of her books, but that could take a while.

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