Monday, January 02, 2012

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. Bantam (Random House). 495 pages.

There were five of us--Carruthers and the new recruit and myself, and Mr. Spivens and the verger. It was late afternoon on November the fifteenth, and we were in what was left of Coventry Cathedral, looking for the bishop's bird stump. Or at any rate I was. 

I gushed about To Say Nothing of the Dog the first time I read it. I did. And I'll probably gush this time too. Because some books are just that good. And if ever a book deserves to be read--if ever an author deserves to be read--it is Connie Willis and her time travel novels. Is To Say Nothing of the Dog a sequel to Doomsday Book? Well....not exactly. The two can be read separately, read in ANY order. (I read To Say Nothing of the Dog first.) Both books share the same world--the same futuristic time-traveling world. There are two characters in To Say Nothing of the Dog that were first introduced in Doomsday Book, Mr. James Dunworthy and Finch. But. For the most part, To Say Nothing of the Dog is a great standalone novel.

Ned Henry narrates the novel. And he does a great job. When we first meet him, he's suffering from time-lag. He's spent too much time--of late--jumping through time. He's not alone. There is someone doing her very, very best to drive EVERYONE in his department crazy. Lady Schrapnell is a woman on a mission--a RICH woman on a mission. And she won't take no for an answer. If Lady Schrapnell volunteers you for a job, well, you stay volunteered until the job is done to her satisfaction. And what does Lady Schrapnell want most of all? The bishop's bird stump. Her project is the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral--a cathedral destroyed/damaged during World War II. And she HAS to know if the bishop's bird stump was still in the church during the raid. She needs to know if it should be replicated as part of the 'restoration.' So Ned Henry is just one of dozens looking IN THE PAST for the answers as to what happened to the bishop's bird stump.

But that 'mission' becomes almost secondary....when it is 'discovered' that there's been an incongruity. At first they think it's simple, it's easily fixed. One of the time travelers interfered when she shouldn't. But. They'll just send another time traveler to fix that interference, and things should go smoothly. But since the time traveler they send is Ned Henry, since he's suffering from exhaustion and time-lag, since he barely heard his instructions, since he jumped into the Net to avoid being discovered by an angry Lady Schrapnell, nothing is simple. What Ned Henry soon realizes is that his arrival in June 1888 has changed things. His arrival has kept two people from meeting (and subsequently falling in love and marrying), and that's just the start.

But he isn't the only one in the past. He isn't the only time-traveler working to restore things. Verity Kindle. The beautiful Verity Kindle has a role to play as well....

I loved this one. I did. I just LOVED it. It's very different from Doomsday Book. It's a very funny book. Almost playful in a way. It's definitely science fiction. But if you like historical fiction OR mysteries, this one may appeal to you quite a bit!!! Especially if you're a fan of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. The more you love Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey, well, the more you'll appreciate this one.
I think that's why I loved it EVEN MORE the second time around.

With my love of the Victorian period, my love of cozy mysteries, my love of historical fiction, my love of science fiction, To Say Nothing of the Dog, was just a perfect, perfect match for me. But. I don't think you have to love *all* those things to appreciate (and love) this one. I really don't.

2 Quotes About the bishop's bird stump:

"Perhaps it was removed for safekeeping," he said, looking at the windows. "Like the east windows."
"The bishop's bird stump?" I said incredulously. "Are you joking?"
"You're right," he said. "It isn't the sort of thing you'd want to keep from being blown up. Victorian art!" He shuddered. (7)

I must be getting light-headed from lack of sleep. No one, even badly shell-shocked, would steal it. Or buy it at a jumble sale. This was the bishop's bird stump. Even the munitions scrap iron drive would turn it down. Unless of course someone recognized its potential as a psychological weapon against the Nazis. (12)

About time-lag:

One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober. (9)

And isn't this the truth:

There is nothing more helpful than shouted instructions, particularly incomprehensible ones. (153)

Verity Kindle on mystery novels:
"Of course they're usually about murder, not robbery, but they always take place in a country house like this, and the butler did it, at least for the first hundred mystery novels or so. Everyone's a suspect, and it's always the least likely person, and after the first hundred or so, the butler wasn't anymore--the least likely person, I mean--so they had to switch to unlikely criminals. You know, the harmless old lady or the vicar's devoted wife, that sort of thing, but it didn't take the reader long to catch on to that, and they had to resort to having the detective be the murderer, and the narrator, even though that had already been done in The Moonstone. The hero did it, only he didn't know it. He was sleepwalking, in his nightshirt, which was rather racy stuff for Victorian times, and the crime was always unbelievably complicated. In mystery novels. I mean, nobody ever ever just grabs the vase and runs, or shoots somebody in a fit of temper, and at the very end, when you think you've got it all figured out, there's one last plot-twist, and the crime's always very carefully thought out, with disguises and alibis and railway timetables and they have to include a diagram of the house in the frontispiece, showing everyone's bedroom and the library, which is where the body always is, and all the connecting doors, and even then you don't have a prayer of figuring it out, which is why they have to bring in a world-famous detective--"
"Who solves it with little gray cells?" I said.
"Yes. Hercule Poirot, that's Agatha Christie's detective, and he says it isn't at all necessary to go running about measuring footprints and picking up cigarette ends to solve mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. That's Arthur Conan Doyle's detective--"
"I know who Sherlock Holmes is." (205)

Well, it wasn't exactly the ending of an Agatha Christie mystery, with Hercule Poirot gathering everyone together in the drawing room to reveal the murderer and impress everyone with his astonishing deductive powers. And it definitely wasn't a Dorothy Sayers, with the detective hero saying to his heroine sidekick, "I say, we make a jolly good detectin' team. How about makin' the partnership permanent, eh, what?" and then proposing in Latin. (431)
Verity and Ned:

She peered at me. "It isn't fair, you know."
"What isn't?" I said warily.
"Your boater. It makes you look just like Lord Peter Wimsey, especially when you tilt it forward like that." (254)

"The first time I ever saw you, I thought, he looks just like Lord Peter Wimsey. You were wearing the boater and--no, that wasn't the first time," she said accusingly. "The first time was in Mr. Dunworthy's office, and you were all covered in soot. You were still adorable, though, even if your mouth was hanging open." (254)

"Lord Peter took a nap," she said. "Harriet watched him sleep, and that's when she knew she was in love with him."
She sat up again. "Of course, I knew it from the second page of Strong Poison, but it took two more books for Harriet to figure it out. She kept telling herself it was all just detecting and deciphering codes and solving mysteries together, but I knew she was in love with him. He proposed in Latin. Under a bridge. After they solved the mystery. You can't propose till after you've solved the mystery. That's a law in detective novels."
She sighed. "It's too bad. 'Placetne, magistra?' he said when he proposed, and then she said, 'Placet.' That's a fancy Oxford don way of saying yes. I had to look it up. I hate it when people use Latin and don't tell you what they mean..." (259)
Read To Say Nothing of the Dog
  • If you like science fiction
  • If you like Victorian literature or historical books (romances, mysteries, etc.) set in Victorian England
  • If you like to laugh
  • If you like reading about time travel
  • If you like Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot
  • If you like Dorothy L. Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey
  • If Strong Poison and Gaudy Night are among your favorite books
  • If you like your romances on the light side
  • If you like historical fiction
  • If you like cats
  • If you like well-developed characters
  • If you're looking for a book you don't want to put down...

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


redhead said...

great review! I loved Willis's Doomsday Book, so To Say Nothing of the Dog is definitely getting added to my list. I think I have a soft spot for time travel.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Wonderful gushing review! And I loved the cover of the book. I have only ever read (but really enjoyed) Willis' short fiction and although I planned to get to Blackout/All Clear last year it just didn't happen. But its the start of a new year, so hope springs eternal. Happy to see you loved it as much the second time through.

Fence said...

I read this ages ago, and remember enjoying it. And of course the bird stump, but I don't remember a huge amount else.
I do enjoy Willis' style of writing, even if I didn't enjoy her latest as much as others :)

Anonymous said...

Great review! I listened this on audio last year and and I loved it. Whenever I'm a little down I listen a passage and it always cheers me up. I love Cyril and all the other characters.

Cindy Swanson said...

I read this book after reading the review by the Ink Slinger, who often takes part in Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Like you, I loved it. It was my introduction to Connie Willis, and I hungrily grabbed up all of her books. Some are better than others, but pretty much all of them are fascinating. I hope she hurries up and writes another one!

Cindy at Notes in the Key of Life

jane said...

Do love this book - my only complaint is that it is so very quick to read . . .

Laura's Reviews said...

I like everything on your list . . . why haven't I read this book yet??

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

Now I know I must read a Connie Willis book! I love time travel and historical fiction and I have The Doomsday book on my list of time travel books to read. Thanks for linking back to the Time Travel Challenge page.