I need to get one thing out of the way: I dislike Victorian era high society. I’m generally not going to read books set in that period if they involve the upper classes to any significant extent. For instance, I’ve never read any Jane Austen. Maybe some day. Maybe.
I had to mention that because Connie Willis sets much of her novel To Say Nothing of the Dog in that period. It’s a comedy of manners among time travelers from the future living with British society people. I liked the book, but the setting took away a chunk of my enjoyment.
Science fictionally, we’re talking time travel. There’s nothing new in Willis’ treatment of this common trope. That doesn’t take away from the story though. Rather than using the story to explore time travel, time travel is merely a device to drive the plot.
Ned Henry is a historian in the future. They can research events by traveling to the past and observing. However, the time travel net and the space time continuum prevent such visitors from changing anything. Or so everyone thinks. Henry’s normal missions are actually research for a wealthy patron of the university’s time travel department. She wants information in order to re-create a cathedral in Coventry destroyed by German bombers during World War Two. The patron is also rather overbearing.
The head of the department sends Henry back to the Victorian era for two weeks of rest away from the aforementioned overbearing patron. However, what happens there doesn’t match what history recorded, so Henry and fellow time traveling historian Verity have to maneuver events to fix things up. This includes returning a cat that was thought to be drowned, getting an ancestor of the wealthy patron to marry the right man, and figuring out what happened to a hideous fixture that at one time resided in the cathedral at Coventry.
Why I liked the book boils down to one simple aspect: the characters. I like Ned Henry and Harriet
Verity Kindle, the time traveling historians. What’s obvious from when they meet is that this is their love story, but without the schmoop. I like love stories without schmoop. Perhaps that’s because, while I am fairly romantic myself, I’m not given over to maudlin acts of affection. So watching these two interact is quite fun.
I had nearly all the plot nailed down shortly pages into the book. Terence St. Trewes and
Tossie Mering meet and quickly become engaged. But history recorded that Tossie married someone with a last name starting with the letter C. Who the mysterious Mr. C is was pretty obvious to me, particularly with all the references to classic Agatha Christie mystery cozies. And having read Walter Jon Williams’ Millenium, what happened to the bishop’s bird stump also seemed pretty obvious to me too.
Like a roller coaster, knowing where the track leads doesn’t make the ride any less fun.
Other blogged reviews:
- Becky’s Book Reviews
- Livre d’Or
- A Light in the Darkness of Knowledge
- The Only Winning Move
- Cold Iron and Rowan-Wood
- Giraffe Days Book Review
Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found The Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last
Author: Connie Willis
Cover creator: Eric Dinyer (artist)
Imprint / publisher: Spectra / Random House
Format: Mass market paperback
Length: 493 p.
Publication date: 1998
Subject: Time travel — Fiction
LC classification: PS3573.I45652 T6 1997