Saturday, July 18, 2009

To Say Nothing of the Dog


Willis, Connie. 1998. To Say Nothing of the Dog. 493 pages. (Hugo Award)

Read this book. That's all I have to say about that. No, not really. I have plenty to say about this one. But I don't think my review will be able to do this one justice. What is To Say Nothing of the Dog? It's a funny sci-fi mystery with a smidgen of romance.

I have a weakness for time travel. I do. And this one is a great example of a time-traveling sci-fi novel that just works really well. It's smart. It's funny. It keeps you reading. It is impossible to put down most of the time. (Trust me on that. Not that I can ever really regret staying up past 3:30AM to finish it, but I do wish I'd started it earlier in the day.)

Our hero is Ned Henry. He's a time traveler. That's his job. (Though I think it would be a cool job to have, Henry seems to find it a bit stressful. And once I got an up close glimpse of his boss, I could see why he feels that way. But still. It's time travel.) Right now his mission is to find out what happened to the bishop's bird stump that disappeared from Coventry Cathedral during the chaos of World War 2. (The church was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1940.) Henry's boss, Lady Schrapnell, is intent on restoring the cathedral down to the last little detail. And she wants this mystery solved. So much that she's hired dozens and dozens and dozens of people to travel back through time trying to find the answer. Was this bishop's bird stump still in the cathedral the day it was bombed? Should it be part of the restored cathedral?

But isn't so much time travel dangerous? Just a wee bit dangerous at least? What if something important is inadvertently changed? True, it's supposed to be self-correcting with built-in security to prevent such events, but still.

The truth of the matter is there are a few problems going on. And no one is quite sure why, they just know that someone, somewhere must have done something. Not very helpful, huh? Henry doesn't think so either. He's a bit disoriented, but he's been instructed to go to 1888 and 'fix' something that's gone wrong. Much of the novel is spent in Victorian England--Henry meets fellow time-traveler, Verity Kindle, there. She's posing as Tocelyn's cousin and hoping to get her hands on Tossie's diary. (Tocelyn is a great-great-great-great-great something or other to Lady Schrapnell. It was by reading this diary that she became inspired to restore the cathedral in the first place.) But when Henry arrives, Tossie is not only not interested in visiting the cathedral, she's flirting with the wrong man. She's "destined" (to our time line at least) to marry a Mr. C. Can Verity and Ned coax her to visit the cathedral in time and meet her future husband?

I definitely recommend this one. It's a funny take on both traditional science fiction novels and traditional mysteries. I think almost anyone would enjoy this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

13 comments:

Janssen 1:44 PM  

I love this book too! It was so clever and fun and I too am a TOTAL sucker for time travel.

Suko 3:02 PM  

Books and movies about time travel are all the rage right now, and this book sounds like a real winner!

Ana O. 3:01 AM  

Becky, I've had this book in my TBR for ages and you've just convinced me to pick it up as soon as possible. Great review! :-)

Melissa 10:08 AM  

SO glad you liked this one. (It's one of my favorites!)

Kimberly @ lectitans 7:34 AM  

Sounds fun! Time travel always hurts my head a little. I think more exposure to time travel sci fi might fix that problem, and I love the Victorian era. (Also, how great a name is Verity Kindle? So great.) This will go on my TBR list.

Fyrefly 8:44 AM  

I really enjoyed this book too, although it took me a while to get into it... but once I was in, I was in for good. (Plus if I ever get a cat, I know what I'm naming it.)

Have you read Doomsday Book? It's set in the same time-traveling Oxford, and is also excellent, although it's much more serious.

Kailana 4:44 PM  

I really have to read this book. It sounds like something I would like. :)

Care 8:04 PM  

I'm a sucker for time travel movies but haven't read too many books. I'll tbr this.

Zibilee 2:16 PM  

I am so glad you liked this book! I read it awhile ago, and thought that it was extremely entertaining and funny. If you liked this book, you might also like Doomsday Book, by the same author. It is a more serious and sometimes sad book, but it also deals with time travel. I thought it was excellent, and it remains one of my favorite books. In fact, I think that Willis is one of the best authors out there. Great review!

Amanda 3:12 PM  

Oh this is my FAVORITE Connie Willis book, and well, just a favorite of mine in general. Great review!

Sharon 1:46 PM  

I loved this book too! And I agree with the urging for you to read The Doomsday Book. I also loved Bellwether by Willis - it was very, very funny.

Ladybug 3:54 AM  

I read Bellwether by Willis earlier this summer and I liked it so I'll have to check out this one as well.

Thanks for the great review, Becky!

Eesti 8:24 PM  

I enjoyed "The Doomsday Book" very much, but after reading Ms. Willis' other books, I concluded that she was one of those authors with only one good book in them, not that there is any shame in that.
After I heard that "To Say Nothing Of the Dog" had won the 1999 Hugo for best novel, I thought I give her books another try. Is is as good as "Neuromancer" and "Ender's Game"? No. But is is nevertheless a highly entertaining read, and every bit as good as "Doomsday Book." I read it straight through in one sitting, staying up late to finish it. I *had* to find out where (& what) the bishop's bird stump was!

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