Series: Oxford Time Travel #2
Published: 1998 by Bantam
Genres: Science Fiction
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…for which I write the shortest review of all time, for I shall say nothing! Sorry, bad pun.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is a comedy of manners with time travel. It’s kind of like a mashup of Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams. It has an eminently literary feel, but continuously pokes fun at itself.
The story begins with a time traveler named Ned Henry. Ned Henry is time lagged. If you time travel too much, you get time lag, which is kind of like a blend between jetlag and being really really high. Symptoms of time lag include misunderstanding words, waxing poetic about mundane things, and thinking that everyone you see is hot. Everything’s beautiful, man.
Ned Henry is on a mission to find the Bishop’s Bird Stump at the orders of Lady Shrapnel, a type-A personality who is hell-bent on rebuilding Coventry Cathedral on an unrealistically tight timeline. She’s sent Ned back in time repeatedly, but they can’t quite seem to reach Coventry on the last night that the bird stump was seen. Meanwhile, a fellow time traveler named Verity brings something from the past back into the future, which theoretically shouldn’t be possible and could end up destroying the universe. Ned is sent back to correct it, but he’s too time-lagged to be of much use, which begins a comedic chain reaction of events as Ned and Verity struggle to fix their mistakes so they don’t alter the future.
I read To Say Nothing of the Dog as part of a book club, and after discussing it at length with friends, here are some of my thoughts and recommendations:
- To Say Nothing of the Dog is definitely a book that’s aimed at an intellectual audience. Throughout Ned and Verity’s adventures, there are constant references to history, philosophy, and literature. I found the references to be great for both providing an aesthetic and for providing context on the theories of history and time travel (can the action of one person/animal/etc. alter history? does the individual matter? why did Napoleon really lose at Waterloo?), but some people might find them to be dense or to bog down the story.
- Connie Willis doesn’t give readers a lot of context when envisioning the protagonist. For instance, we spent a long time debating how old Ned really is. I enjoyed the lack of context, as I felt I was able to self-insert and to identify with Ned’s cluelessness, but others in our group were frustrated by it.
- Most of the characters in this story are caricatures and are inherently unlikeable, with the exception of butlers and dogs.
- The author does a fantastic job portraying animals as well-rounded characters with distinct personalities.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, and would like to read more of Willis’ work in the future.