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To Say Nothing of the Dog [Hardcover]

Connie Willis
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (196 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 1997 Bantam Spectra Book
In her first full-length novel since her critically acclaimed Doomsday Book Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, once again visits the unpredictable world of time travel.  But this time the result is a joyous journey into a past and future of comic mishaps and historical cross-purposes, in which the power of human love can still make all the difference.

On the surface, England in the summer of 1888 is possibly the most restful time in history--lazy afternoons boating on the Thames, tea parties, croquet on the lawn--and time traveler Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest.  He's been shuttling back and forth between the 21st century and the 1940s looking for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's birdstump.  It's only the latest in a long string of assignments from Lady Schrapnell, the rich dowager who has invaded Oxford University.  She's promised to endow the university's time-travel research project in return for their help in rebuilding the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years before.

But the bargain has turned into a nightmare.  Lady Schrapnell's motto is "God is in the details," and as the l25th anniversary of the cathedral's destruction--and the deadline for its proposed completion--approaches, time-travel research has fallen by the wayside.  Now Ned and his colleagues are frantically engaged in installing organ pipes, researching misericords, and generally risking life and limb.  So when Ned gets the chance to escape to the Victorian era, he jumps at it.  Unfortunately, he isn't really being sent there to recover from his time-lag symptoms, but to correct an incongruity a fellow historian, Verity Kindle, has inadvertently created by bringing something forward from the past.

In theory, such an act is impossible.  But now it has happened, and it's up to Ned and Verity to correct the incongruity before it alters history or, worse, destroys the space-time continuum.  And they have to do it while coping with eccentric Oxford dons, table-rapping spiritualists, a very spoiled young lady, and an even more spoiled cat.  As Ned and Verity try frantically to hold things together and find out why the incongruity happened, the breach widens, time travel goes amok, and everything starts to fall apart--until the fate of the entire space-time continuum hangs on a sÚance, a butler, a bulldog, the battle of Waterloo, and, above all, on the bishop's birdstump.

At once a mystery novel, a time-travel adventure, and a Shakespearean comedy, To Say Nothing of the Dog is a witty and imaginative tale of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and a chaotic world in which the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line, and the secret to the universe truly lies "in the details."

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From Amazon

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a science-fiction fantasy in the guise of an old-fashioned Victorian novel, complete with epigraphs, brief outlines, and a rather ugly boxer in three-quarters profile at the start of each chapter. Or is it a Victorian novel in the guise of a time-traveling tale, or a highly comic romp, or a great, allusive literary game, complete with spry references to Dorothy L. Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle? Its title is the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome's singular, and hilarious, Three Men in a Boat. In one scene the hero, Ned Henry, and his friends come upon Jerome, two men, and the dog Montmorency in--you guessed it--a boat. Jerome will later immortalize Ned's fumbling. (Or, more accurately, Jerome will earlier immortalize Ned's fumbling, because Ned is from the 21st century and Jerome from the 19th.)

What Connie Willis soon makes clear is that genre can go to the dogs. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a fine, and fun, romance--an amused examination of conceptions and misconceptions about other eras, other people. When we first meet Ned, in 1940, he and five other time jumpers are searching bombed-out Coventry Cathedral for the bishop's bird stump, an object about which neither he nor the reader will be clear for hundreds of pages. All he knows is that if they don't find it, the powerful Lady Schrapnell will keep sending them back in time, again and again and again. Once he's been whisked through the rather quaint Net back to the Oxford future, Ned is in a state of super time-lag. (Willis is happily unconcerned with futuristic vraisemblance, though Ned makes some obligatory references to "vids," "interactives," and "headrigs.") The only way Ned can get the necessary two weeks' R and R is to perform one more drop and recuperate in the past, away from Lady Schrapnell. Once he returns something to someone (he's too exhausted to understand what or to whom) on June 7, 1888, he's free.

Willis is concerned, however, as is her confused character, with getting Victoriana right, and Ned makes a good amateur anthropologist--entering one crowded room, he realizes that "the reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over." Though he's still not sure what he's supposed to bring back, various of his confederates keep popping back to set him to rights. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a shaggy-dog tale complete with a preternaturally quiet, time-traveling cat, Princess Arjumand, who might well be the cause of some serious temporal incongruities--for even a mouser might change the course of European history. In the end, readers might well be more interested in Ned's romance with a fellow historian than in the bishop's bird stump, and who will not rejoice in their first Net kiss, which lasts 169 years!

From Booklist

What a stitch! Willis' delectable romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England, with a few side excursions into World War II and medieval Britain, will have readers happily glued to the pages. Rich dowager Lady Schrapnell has invaded Oxford University's time travel research project in 2057, promising to endow it if they help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by a Nazi air raid in 1940. In effect, she dragoons almost everyone in the program to make trips back in time to locate items--in particular, the bishop's bird stump, an especially ghastly example of Victorian decorative excess. Time traveler Ned Henry is suffering from advanced time lag and has been sent, he thinks, for rest and relaxation to 1888, where he connects with fellow time traveler Verity Kindle and discovers that he is actually there to correct an incongruity created when Verity inadvertently brought something forward from the past. Take an excursion through time, add chaos theory, romance, plenty of humor, a dollop of mystery, and a spoof of the Victorian novel, and you end up with what seems like a comedy of errors but is actually a grand scheme "involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and penwipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork." Sally Estes

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stitch in time July 16 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This story takes off from the same setting that Willis used in her earlier novel, "Doomsday Book", about Oxford historians who travel back in time to investigate past events and occasionally recover artifacts. But the main characters from that book aren't re-used, and the style and themes are entirely different.
This is a light novel, with elements of a romance and a comedy of manners. Ned Henry is suffering from time lag, having been run ragged by Lady Schrapnell, a wealthy heiress who is providing most of the funds to keep the research going. Lady Schrapnell is a stickler for detail in her elaborate reconstruction of the Coventry Cathedral, and insists that the historians provide the Bishop's bird stump, a strikingly ugly work of art that was lost when the Cathedral was bombed in 1940.
The only way Ned can escape from Schrapnell is to go back to before she was born, so he is given a simple courier assignment to make a delivery in the Victorian era, where he can rest up for a few weeks after his task is completed. Unfortunately, Ned is too time-lagged to be able to understand his instructions, so he is left wandering about the 1880s uncertain what he is delivering to whom, and never quite aware of whether he is preserving the proper time line or undermining it. He does know that Tossie, the distant ancestress of Lady Schrapnell whose family home he is a guest in, is supposed to fall in love with her future husband in a few days, but he doesn't know who that is - only that it definitely isn't Cyril, the young gentleman he accidentally introduced to her, who is now wooing her with marked success.
The plot is complex and worked out in great detail - many apparently random details are ultimately brought together in an ending that is almost too clever. The characters, major and minor, are nicely drawn. All in all, thoroughly enjoyable.
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Format:Kindle Edition
Fun book. Well written. Filled with trivia and non-sense. And Grand Design too. Don't be discouraged by confusion-- like all good mysteries, it needs patience.
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
Highly enjoyable time travel from futurist England to Victorian England. If you loved "Doomday Book", "Fire Watch", Blackout by Connie Willis you will love this book too! Again, this is a book I could read over and over. Time travel is certainly interesting in Connie Willis world
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5.0 out of 5 stars Freaking loved this book March 8 2009
By NorthVan Dave TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book over 3 years ago, so I'm unable to provide specifics about this book. But what I can tell you is this.

1) I enjoyed the novel, so much so that I keep hoping Ms. Willis will write a sequel.

2) The book deals with time travel and Victorian England.

3) There is some subtle humour in the novel which kept my laughing here are there as I made my way through the book.

If you're in to time travel books that have a nice humours twist to them, you probably won't be disappointed in this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A romp through history June 7 2008
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The point of view character is a historian from the latter half of this century, a time when time travel is a well-known phenomenon. Instead of looking things up in books, historians go and take a look in person. A rich American widow is sponsoring the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral exactly as it was on the night it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War II, right down to the last piece of hideous Victoriana. The historian's job is to find that last piece, and determine whether it was, in fact, in the cathedral on the night of the bombing, because there's been no sign of it since.

Part of the problem is that something keeps historians from being able to get even close to the right time or place. Part of the problem is that he's been doing too many time drops, and he's badly time-lagged, so his vision is blurred, his hearing is impaired, and he's inclined to fall madly in love with the next pretty girl he meets. And part of the problem is that it seems as if somebody, contrary to what everyone "knows" about time travel, has actually managed to bring an object forward in time with them, with incalculable consequences for the space-time continuum. In other words, our hero is in a serious mess, and things just get messier and messier, the harder he tries to fix them.

The characters are all thoroughly batty. We meet characters who are absolutely fanatical about their opinions, but willing to drop all arguments at the drop of a fishing fly, we meet clergymen who attend seances, we meet a family who bought a first-class library as a status symbol, but disapprove of anybody who actually reads books, we meet Jerome K. Jerome, the author of Three Men in a Boat, to say nothing of the dog.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In a word: Funny!! July 11 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A trip through time to the Victorian Era, with all its propriety and weirdness. With some extremely funny situations. I especially liked it when the time travelers all got up in the morning, expecting a good, old-fashioned Victorian English breakfast - you know, eggs, bacon, hot bread, coffee. I won't spoil it for you here, but let's just say it had nothing to do with eggs and bacon.
This is her funniest - complex, but very light-hearted.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fun romp in time July 7 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Very enjoyable book - Connie Willis takes you on a ride through time to the Victorian Age and back. Very lighthearted, but not simple-minded. Highly recommended.
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