Thursday, January 28, 2021

10. To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog. (Oxford Time Travel #2) Connie Willis. 1998. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: 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. 

Premise/plot: 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....

Verity Kindle is the heroine of To Say Nothing of the Dog. She is on a mission of her own. While Ned Henry was given the assignment of finding out the whereabouts of the bishop's bird stump, Verity's assignment is to read Tocelyn's diary. The diary is available to read in the future. But the most relevant pages to the Coventry Cathedral project were damaged. So she's been sent to the oh-so-important summer of 1888 to read the newly written diary entries. She's having about as much success as Ned Henry. In other words, not much luck at all! These two work together as best they can. Verity manages to travel back and forth a few times to the future. Their mission--as they see it has changed a bit. They worry that they've damaged the future and that something horrible may happen as a result. Like Tocelyn, they know, was supposed to marry a "Mr. C". They know this for a fact from future diary entries. Yet here they are and she's engaged to someone else! Their "new mission" is to find the identity of "Mr. C." and make sure they meet when they're supposed to meet....

My thoughts: 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. 

I loved this one. I have always loved this one. It is a delightful time travel novel. I love the humor! I do! It's so very, very funny! And I love the details and the dialogue. This one is just a joy cover to cover!


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)



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Jean said...

Oh, I love this book so much! And I had to look it up, too.

Gretchen said...

I have not read this one. It sounds great! I had to look it up too.