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.
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.”