To Say Nothing Of The Dog Paperback – May 9, 2013
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The other thing to note about this book is that although it's technically sci-fi (the fluffiest and lightest of hand-wavy science sci-fi), the sci-fi/futuristic aspects are used mostly as a framing device. The majority of the book ends up being set in Victorian England around 1880, taking up such activities as a boating vacation on the Thames, dealing with a fishing-addicted history Professor, trying to save a cat from being drowned by a possibly nefarious butler, trying to prevent the wrong couple from getting married, and tracking down the bishop's bird stump. It's basically historical romance wrapped up with a sci-fi bow. Luckily I love both those things!
This is a time travel book, and although I'm not a big SciFi/time travel reader, I loved this one. Once again, there are three men in a boat, to say nothing of the dog, in Victorian England, mostly. There is a cathedral to be rebuilt, and the Bishop's Bird Stump to be found, and a taskmaster who insists that everything be done NOW, no matter how much time travel is required.
It did take me a few pages to get into the travel thing, to understand what was going on, and there was, to my taste, a little too much about time travel slippage. However, the characters are funny and endearing, and travel along the Thames brings adventures, often rather soggy ones. The dog and the cat in this story are wonderful. Altogether, a delightful story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
This is one of her "time travel" historical / science fiction novels and it picks up where DOOMSDAY BOOK leaves off. In this book we are introduced to a group of Historian/Scientists who are delving into the infancy of time travel. They are exploring the possibilities of time travel when it comes to replacing priceless works of art that have been lost, or being able to restore animal species that have gone extinct. They are also coming to terms with the dangers of time travel. All while living a first-hand experience of a place and time that has gone almost 150 years into the past.
Unlike the deeply serious subject matter of DOOMSDAY BOOK and BLACKOUT / ALL CLEAR, the very witty TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG is a lighthearted story that pays homage to Jerome K Jerome's classic comedy/travel guide, THREE MEN IN A BOAT. Our two time-travelling Historian / Scientists wing their way back in time to the Victorian era to find a lost treasure and solve a historical mystery. Along the way they find themselves in all sorts of scrapes and also they find that a "spark" might be igniting between them.
Will they ever find the Bishop's Bird Stump that was lost to history? Will they find True Love? What did the Butler do? Will people in the second half of the 21st century ever know the joy of having pet cats? Just read the book to find out! ;-)
Top international reviews
For quite a while, I thought I was reading a very good emulation of a Wodehouse novel - To Say Nothing of the Dog made me laugh the same way Wodehouse does (embarrassingly, uncontrollably) - but there are humane touches that lift it out of knockabout comedy and slowly draw you into the lives of the characters. This is where the time travel is handy. The characters from the future dropped into the middle of Victorian England give a perspective on the lives of the Victorians that Wodehouse never provided for his 20th century gadabouts. Slowly, one gets an inkling for what it might have been like to live back then.
The mechanics of the time travel aren't very important, which is a blessed relief. Sci-fi can get a bit tedious in the presence of time travel. One gets thrust into po-faced considerations of the paradoxes caused by the ability to kill one's own grandfather. The deal here seems to be that that kind of stuff isn't allowed. If one tries it on, the universe intervenes in ways that make one suspect that it might have a sense of humour. Indeed the whole notion of time travel gets a gentle ribbing with the paraphernalia of time travel being eerily reminiscent of the trappings of a Victorian séance. There is a séance, which, of course, unwinds amusingly, but it also underscores an interesting point: given the chance to meet your own grandfather back in the day, wouldn't you rather have a nice chat than shoot him?
Instead, time travel is a Heath Robinson engine that drives the magnificently daft mystery plot and, whilst the characters bimble around history with a little H, there are some interesting observations about History with a big one.
The mystery plot revolves around Lady Schrapnell’s obsession with creating in 21st Century Oxford a perfect reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral as it was on the eve of its destruction during the Second World War. Almost every piece is in place except for one: the Bishop’s Bird Stump. The Lady’s hapless minions are thrust backwards in time again and again to find the Stump, an item of almost zero historic consequence.
Through this seemingly tiny hole in history, we are led deep into the intricately tangled lives of a forgotten Victorian family and reminded quite clearly that History is far more than a picture perfect reconstruction of a single moment in time. We are also reminded that any History is necessarily built up from almost nothing. A single line in a Parish register is forced to stand in for a time, a place, a whole society. Here we are dealing clearly with fiction, but any History worth reading requires the same imaginative effort to breathe life into the facts and figures.
That sounds heavy, but it’s not. The skill of Connie Willis is that the whole skips lightly, effortlessly across deep waters. As two Oxbridge dons argue by the riverside about their theories of history and Darwin, we feel the brief shadow of the totalitarian nightmares of the twentieth century, then one don pushes the other in the water and we laugh.
There is some parody going on of Victorian literature, that makes it a bit of a slog to read.
I didnt find it funny at all let alone hilarious. The characters were ok but could have had more depth all a bit cardboard (maybe that was part of the 'joke' too....)
It didnt seem very sci fi really, the focus was all over the place and not melded together, more bitty chunks of various aims the author had.... sci fi here, then a bit of an attempt at comedy, then 'romance' chucked in, then a parody of a Victorian novel, then a bit of sci fi.... it really felt awkward.... but above all it was SLOW for anyone not expecting the victorian novel style (which I wasnt).
The 'clues' were also very obvious and huge wedges of the book were spent just waiting for the lead characters to catch on, thats never a good thing
Im doing a bit of a Time Travel Book Marathon at the moment and have just finished Time and Again by Jack Finney, and the historic and romantic elements were tackled in much more to my taste in his book, there was a depth to the depiction and everything seemed to fit together a bit more coherently.
Some reviewers have complained that the characters are not well developed. To me they seemed at least as well developed as might be expected in a thriller, as well as being more varied. This is a book primarily about the philosophy of time travel, chaos theory and of history. It is amazing how the feel of each English era is induced so well, especially since the author is American. (I did find once that the use of the word 'gotten' gave me a jolt.)
Maybe those who didn't like the book are reading something that is outside of their preferred genre. As an example of though-provoking science fiction, in my opinion, it would be very difficult to better this work.
Personally, I loved it. It's probably the most original time travel story I've ever read, and I'm a sucker for time travel. At times, the story becomes a frantic farce, while at others, it's a gentle romance in an almost Victorian style. The plot is extremely convoluted and self-referential which suits the subject matter perfectly.
To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of Willis' light romantic comedies, set in the near future and in Victorian times, with time travel. It's rather like the printed equivalent of an old Cary Grant movie -- one of the screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby or Holiday. Willis obviously loves Jerome K. Jerome's novel Three Men in a Boat, and much of To Say Nothing of the Dog is an homage to it, or perhaps a riff on the Jerome novel.
The time-travel adds greatly to the complexity of the plot. If you are paying full attention while you read, I expect it makes complete sense. I was enjoying the experience too much to read slowly and carefully; perhaps unfairly, I knocked a star off for the resulting mild confusion.
And the dog is the star of the tale (honest).