Monday, 11 May 2020

To Say Nothing of the Dog


To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis has been on my TBR pile for a few years. According to Goodreads, since 2017, so not my oldest tbr by a very long chalk. (I actually thought it was longer than that.) It's my 6th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and as I signed up to read 12 that means I'm halfway through that challenge.



Oxford history student, Ned Henry, is part of a time travelling programme called The Net, in 2057. He's been going back and forth to Coventry Cathedral as it was being blitzed during World War Two, looking for something called The Bishop's Bird Stump. It's for Lady Shrapnell who is going to rebuild the original cathedral in 2057. The problem is he's been doing it far too often, too many 'drops' as they're called, and is suffering from 'time-lag'... a tendency to lose track of where you are and what you're doing and to turn rather dreamily poetic.

He is therefore not the ideal person to send back to Victorian times because he can't take in his instructions and when he gets there has no idea what he's supposed to do or whom he should meet. So Ned hooks up with Terence who wants to go down the river in a boat but has no money to hire one. Ned pays and off they go, loaded to the gunwales with luggage, pretty much like a scene from Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog, because Terence's bulldog, Cyril, is also there.

They haven't gone very far before they come across two women looking for a cat. The cat is Princess Arjumand, who belongs to Tossie, a beautiful upper class young lady. Terence falls immediately in love with her, much to Ned's disgust, because the girl soon proves herself to be insufferable. And where is this cat? It worries Ned because there's something about Tossie's companion that looks familiar but because of his time-lag he can't remember. This is concerning because he could already have done something that shouldn't have happened, inadvertantly changing history...

Well, goodness me, this is a fun read. It's really a homage to Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome and a few scenes from that are repeated with their own twist, plus Terence is always quoting lines from poetry which I think someone also did in the original book. That said, this is a very different kettle of fish with its science fiction, time travel plot and strong element of romance.

Before I go any further, I have to confess that 'time travel' is really not my favourite science-fiction genre. I get terribly confused when they start harping on about actions that might change history and what needs to be done to stop it, but if they do that something else will be affected and so on and so on. And this book does concentrate a lot on 'space time continuums', 'slippages' and 'incongruities'. But I managed to hang in there, it didn't go totally over my head and the comedy element kept me reading. It's beautfully written, and the 'fish out of water' theme is good fun. Ned has not been prepped properly, or if he has he can't remember, and in Victorian times manners were 'all' and if you strayed from what was proper you could be ostracised and cast out in a second. It's a minefield and not for the faint-hearted... or unprepared.

I didn't realise it but this is book two in the Oxford Time Travel series, book one being the well known, The Domesday Book. That one seems to have different characters though so I suspect the books work fine as standalones although whether that's true for later books I don't know. I have a copy of The Domesday Book somewhere (I think it's about The Plague in the 14th. century) and will read it at some stage.

~~~oOo~~~

14 comments:

TracyK said...

Great review, Cath. I loved this book. I had to go back and check if I had read all of Willis's time travel books in order, and I was surprised that I did. I think this book does work fine as a standalone; the only thing that seems to holds all of the Oxford Time Travel books together is the group that runs the time travel experiments. Blackout and All Clear have to be read together because they are really one book that was too long to publish that way. I dislike really long books so I thought reading those two together would do me in but I loved them.

Anyway, I am glad you enjoyed it.

Lark said...

This really does sound like a fun read. And congrats on getting another book from your TBR pile read. I should have signed up for that reading challenge this year because lately ALL the books I've been reading have been from my TBR pile. Oh, well. Hindsight is 20-20. Have a great day. :D

DesLily said...

You really do great reviews Sis... btw: and I truly mean this.. you don't have to leave comments on my blog...seriously. No one else does, and I'll post them anyway.. lol

Cath said...

Tracy: I had a feeling that this one worked fine as a standalone. I checked The Domesday Book on Goodreads and there was no mention of Ned and Verity being in that, plus I got the feeling that the tone of the two books is very different. I'll remember that if I get to Blackout and All Clear to read them in order and fairly close together.

Lark: It's a really fun read that I think you would like. My plan for the TBR challenge this year was to read 12 chunksters from my tbr mountain and as this one was over 500 pages it qualified very nicely. It's not too late to join the challenge, you can 'back-date' the books you've read.

Pat: Thanks, Sis! (The cheque's in the post LOL). I like commenting on your blog, enjoyed seeing you love the Pern books all over again. I think it's a shame though that a lot of the regular people who used to be around commenting on blogs have stopped blogging.

Marg said...

These books were so much fun. Reading your review makes me think about rereading.

Kay said...

I've heard of this series of books for years, but I've never read any of them. And I do like time-travel stories or I used to. Also, haven't read many of them in a long time.

TracyK said...

Domesday Book was much more serious, sad in some ways, but I still liked it very much, I learned a lot from reading it. I like time travel stories, but in these it can get distracting but there is no way to have the story without it.

Susan said...

This sounds fun! I haven't heard of the original book, so maybe I'll look that one up first. A time travel adventure sounds like just the thing right now.

Cath said...

Marg: I was surprised how how much fun the book was, you kind of don't expect that from science-fiction.

Kay: Yes, I left science fiction reading behind me a long time ago and now only read the occasional one. Crime reading has taken over completely... something I never expected.

Tracy: Thanks, I thought that was the case with The Domesday Book, probably a bit hard to have a light-hearted book about The Black Death.

Susan: Yes, it's the kind of book that takes you right away from all of today's worries. And it will make you laugh. I loved the dog, Cyril.

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
I know what you mean about "mixed affections" for time-travel novels, but this one sounds rather interesting! And a lovable dog, to boot! I will read any book if it has a loveable dog. Will check it out!

Jeane said...

I have maybe said this before, but I really liked Doomsday Book. I have read it three times. To Say Nothing of the Dog didn't work for me- I don't know the story it was apparently mirroring, and I didn't quite get the humor. Oh well. Someday I'd like to read other Connie Willis.

Cath said...

Judith: Yes, I have to say that as time travelling books go this one was good. And Cyril the dog was huge fun. *And* Connie Willis writes beautifully.

Jeanne: Interesting that you've read Domesday Book three times. It seems I should definitely read that. Also interesting that you didn't care for To Say Nothing of the Dog. I can see why, especially if you haven't read Three Men in a Boat. The humour in it is definitely unusual and not for everyone.

Sam Sattler said...

I am a huge fan of good time-travel novels, and I've heard really good things about several books by Connie Willis. This one sounds good, too, so maybe it will be the icebreaker for me. I can't even figure out why I haven't read her by now, since I've known the name for several years.

Cath said...

Sam: It's funny, I know how much you enjoy time travel books and was wondering if you'd come across Connie Willis's books. I can't fingure out why I hadn't read anything by her either as someone recommended her to me 20 years ago!