To Say Nothing of the Dog
By Connie Willis
A Bantam Spectra Book
I kept seeing this book around but never picked it up. Then when I was looking for new science fiction with a time travel element, this once again surfaced. Figuring the universe was trying to tell me something, I added it to the queue list hoping beyond hope the universe’s plan would yield some good reading.
Ned Henry is a time traveler on a mission. He is on a mission to find the bishop’s bird stump which went missing when the Coventry Cathedral in England was bombed during World War II. The cathedral which is being rebuilt in Ned’s time frame needs the bird stump, which probably ranks among some of the most hideous art known to man, to be authentic at least according to the woman who has taken charge of the time travel unit and decided that in rebuilding the cathedral, everything must be perfect. Overcome with time lag due to too many missions, Ned is sent back to Victorian England to recover but what he doesn’t know is that as part of his supposed rest, he’s actually helping to fix a time conundrum which was created when a cat was unexpectedly saved by another time traveler named Verity Kindle.
One thing I don’t normally associate with science fiction is humor. Yes, science fiction much like any other genre has its funny and amusing moments but personally, I found To Say Nothing of the Dog to be downright funny in places which made me love this book more and more as I approached the last page. A large portion of this book takes place on a river in a small boat full of luggage — Ned has luggage but being time lagged doesn’t actually know what’s in it but it’s important to know about the luggage. Also on the boat is a man who is on a mission to find his true love accompanied by his bulldog named Cyril, and a professor who waxes poetic about the grand design of the universe and keeps fish specimens in a kettle. It’s an odd combination but something about it works so very well. The entire time this little river jaunt takes place, Ned is so tired nothing seems out of the ordinary at all. When he ends up in the same place as a woman he momentarily fell in love with when he was back in his own time for a few minutes, he starts to wonder about the grand design the professor keeps going on about and whether or not it might have some merit.
There’s a lot of time jumping here but somehow it never really becomes confusing mostly because the books starts out that way so your expectations for this are set high and it’s a story about time travel so nothing seems odd. I loved the way Willis worked animals into the story. I have a soft spot for furry creatures in books and both the dog and the cat are interesting characters in and of themselves. Ned’s interactions with both (dogs and cats are extinct in his time period) are amusing and slightly heartwarming especially if you’re not a cat person. The story which is focused on an ugly flower holder (if you read the description you wouldn’t be able to call it a vase either) is rather amusing in the twists and turns it takes to find it in the end mirroring a Victorian mystery novel. Again, you need to read it to get that reference. 🙂
Willis is now on my list of authors I will be reading again and probably very shortly since I enjoyed this one so much. If you’re looking for a fun read I recommend this one.