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.