To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

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1998. Bantam. Paperback. 493 pages.

From: the library

Recommendation from: things mean a lot

In a nutshell:

Ned Henry is a time-traveling historian who has been commissioned along with other historians to go back in time to conduct research on Coventry Cathedral.  A wealthy benefactress is rebuilding a replica of the cathedral, which was destroyed by bombs in 1940.  After Ned is diagnosed with advanced time lag, he is sent back to Oxford 1888 for rest and also to correct a discrepancy accidentally instigated by another historian, Verity Kindle.  Unfortunately, the correction is not as simple to accomplish as Ned’s superiors believed, and Ned and Verity find themselves trying to solve the puzzle while navigating the strictures of Victorian society.


I had worried about not reading Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) before reading Willis’ book, as I knew To Say Nothing of the Dog alluded to Jerome’s 1889 book.  However, several bloggers assured me I would be okay with proceeding and they were absolutely right.

Plainly put, I adored this book.  I feel safe in predicting it will stand among my favorites of this year.  To Say Nothing of the Dog is a delightful blend of time-travel conundrums, historical fiction, literary allusions, and humor.   It even has some romance thrown in for good measure.  Willis’ writing is assured and lively: I trusted that wherever the story was going, it was going to be good, and just enjoyed the journey.  Much like a boat ride down a river, you might say.

This is a good sci-fi book for people who don’t think they like to read in that genre.  I’ll admit it took me longer than it should have to grasp the concept of ‘slippage’, but it was an exceedingly minor point of confusion.  Overall, the time-travel is described in accessible ways, without being too simplistic.

Ned and Verity are easy to like and root for, especially as their mission causes them to do baffling things such as take over a seance, play croquet with a Victorian spoiled brat who sneakily cheats, and organize an inane rummage sale.  The rest of the characters are quite memorable, including – and perhaps especially – the pets.

I had been hoping for a truly excellent book to sweep me away at the beginning of the year, and this was the one.  I definitely plan on reading the rest of Connie Willis’ books.

Others’ reviews:

Rat’s Reading – “What’s obvious from when [Ned and Verity] meet is that this is their love story, but without the schmoop. I like love stories without schmoop.

things mean a lot – “…it’s hilarious and chaotic and frenzied – yet everything manages to make perfect sense in the end. Connie Willis, my hat’s off to you. Where have you been all my life?”

The Written World – “On the one hand I enjoyed the story, but on the other I found the book way too long. I know she was making a point when she didn’t have her characters clear thing up really quickly, but I would get impatient.”


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11 responses to “To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

  1. I’m so glad to see that you enjoyed it. I had great fun reading it, and I really look forward to reading more Willis. The pets were quite possibly my favorite part, too.

  2. I’ve just gotten through with Blackout and am looking forward to the sequel, All Clear, and after I’ve done with that one, To Say Nothing of the Dog is next on my list. It sounds so fun! I love time travel books.

  3. It’s so wonderful when you find a gem like this! It sounds like one I should give a try – I don’t read much sci-fi, but I’m always looking to expand my horizons.

  4. Hooray! So glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

  5. I need to read this one. I read The Doomsday Book and another Connie Willis title, Bellwether, last year. Loved them both. Her writing is amazing.

  6. Oh, I wanted to read this! I requested it from the library but didn’t get round to picking it up quickly enough. i have to re-request it ASAP!

  7. I adored this book! It made my list of best books of 2010. It was just so much fun- now I want to get my hands on Doomsday Book.

  8. Teresa – I’m looking forward to reading more Willis as well!

    Jenny – I just read your review of Blackout yesterday. Willis’ books have been all over the place.

    Kathy – This would be a good sci-fi to try. I really did think it was a gem.

    Ana – Thanks for getting me started w/ your review!

    Nancy – Good to know! Bellwether is one I haven’t heard much about on the blogosphere.

    daphne – You should!

    Aarti – yeah, Doomsday is the one I’m thinking will be next for me.

  9. bookgazing

    Yay I just finished it and really enjoyed it, especially the characters and the concept. Time travelling historians, well surely that is every historians dream?

  10. Pingback: Book Review - TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis

  11. Pingback: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis « The Sleepless Reader

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