I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
In Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), 21st century historians at Oxford University use time travel to conduct eyewitness research into the pasts of their various specialties. Unfortunately for them, the wealthy and domineering Lady Schrapnell has temporarily bought their entire department by promising a vital endowment on the condition that their entire staff devotes itself to her pet project, the recreation in Oxford of Coventry Cathedral exactly as it was before being fire bombed by the Germans during World War II. Single-minded, she cares nothing for the delicate aspects of time travel, such as the condition of "time-lag," extreme fatigue and disorientation caused by too many time "drops" into the past in too quick succession, or the natural laws of "the time continuum" and "the conservation of history" that prevent historians from changing historical turning points by blocking access to the time machine-like "net" or by forcing into their time drops temporal or spatial "slippage" to different times and or places so as to avoid "parachronistic incongruities" (time paradoxes). It is ostensibly impossible to bring objects or living creatures from the past into the present, which has led big corporations to abandon the technology and yield it to academics.
Ned Henry has recently done so many drops for Lady Schrapnell that he's suffering from a bad case of time-lag, which causes him to hear the wrong words, to hallucinate, and even to fall in love at first sight with Verity Kindle, a fellow researcher. Lady Schrapnell has mobilized the Oxford staff to find the "bird stump" (an "atrocity" of Victorian art) belonging at some point to the Bishop of Coventry Cathedral, because the artifact apparently inspired her ancestor Tocelyn "Tossie" Mering to change her life for the better, and the deadline for the 21st century consecration of the "new" cathedral is rapidly approaching. Ned is sent by his teacher Mr. Dunworthy back to Victorian Oxford in June of 1888 to hide from Lady Schrapnell and to rest and recover from his time-lag and also to return a cat that Verity unthinkingly rescued from drowning and brought back with her into the 21st century, thereby risking intense and potentially far-reaching parachronistic incongruities that might cause Germany to have won WWII before the time continuum is able to repair itself. The rest of the novel follows the comically frustrating attempts of Ned and Verity to find the cat (Princess Arjumand) and to return it to the pretty and spoiled Tossie and to ensure that she marries the right man and hence that the Victorian past follows its proper course to the proper 21st century.
While Willis' earlier novel, Doomsday Book (1992), features the same 21st century Oxford University historical time traveling research center, it has a completely different mood, dealing with two horrific plagues centuries apart and being a devastating tragedy of biology, fate, and history. To Say Nothing of the Dog, by contrast, is a time travel detective comedy of manners, featuring many mysteries (Who is the mysterious "C" whom Tossie must marry? Where is the Bishop's bird stump? Just what is the true temporal incongruity and who caused it and why? What is secretary Finch's secret mission?) and references to vintage literary detectives, as well as much satire of Victorian culture and human nature. Willis' characters repeatedly mistake the meaning of their interlocutors and the nature of phenomena, making for droll conversations and scenes. The novel is laced--often wittily--with references to historical personages and events, from important battles like Waterloo, documents like Magna Carta, events like the French Revolution, and figures like Abraham Lincoln. A pair of eccentric Victorian Oxford professors are feuding over the prime movers of history, whether blind natural forces or individual human actions, with Ned figuring that it's both those mixed up with chaos theory (because the time continuum is a "chaotic system" with myriad threads linking everything up). Willis loves history, especially the Victorian era, as well as literature like that by Shakespeare, Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Sayers, and Lewis Carroll, and especially favors Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, from which she borrows messing about in boats on the Thames and detailed and enticing chapter sub-titles.
The novel is fun and funny, and there are some hilarious scenes, including a cutthroat croquet match, a church money-raising "fete," a contentious séance, and an appreciation of the crowded, clashing, and mawkish Christian, pagan, and historical motifs of the bishop's bird stump. However, too often I smiled rather than chuckled at Willis' constant humor and even wearied of it. Furthermore, while telling the story from Ned's point of view, she makes it too easy for the reader to divine the identity of "C," which made me impatient with Ned and Verity, who are intelligent young people. And my impatience was exacerbated by the related feeling that, no matter how much Ned and Verity believe they must correct the altered past to preserve history, after all it's only a cat, a marriage, and a bird stump. Especially during the many deliberations and explanations about time and diversions from history and incongruities and strategies for repairing them, I began muttering that finally Willis will just do whatever she wants with history and her story by having the deus ex machina time continuum correct or protect itself anyway, and To Say Nothing of the Dog should have been shorter, and I sure prefer the longer Doomsday Book, which haunted me for days after reading it
Stephen Crossley gives a great reading of the novel, full of wit and personality, and even manages to be humorously convincing when doing things like Tossie's baby talk to her cat and Mrs. Mering's hysterics.
It is an interesting take on time travel. Very witty and fun all the way through. Unlike some of the other books in this series (Blackout, and All Clear, both good) this book is light hearted and fun. You have the feeling that everything will work out in the end and all the loose ends will work themselves out.
Verity. I like the Witty come backs.
"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” --C.S. Lewis
This is one of my favorite books to begin with, and when I listened to it instead of re-reading it, I got a whole new level of enjoyment out of it. It made me laugh, and even tear up in a couple of places--I couldn't even get myself to stop listening to it when I wasn't in the car (which is when I mostly listen to the audiobooks)!
I can't decide between Ned, Verity, Bane, or, well, any of them. All of the characters are unique and enjoyable and funny in their own way.
He has a terrific reading voice, and his sly tones and great voices made me laugh all the way through it. His reading sounded just like what I hear in my head when I am reading the book!
Yes, but then again, it's a book I always want to read in one sitting, too.
Great book! I highly recommend it--but read or listen to it AFTER Doomsday Book and BEFORE Blackout and All Clear. :)
Everytime I listen to (or read) this book I am blown away by how smart and funny Connie Willis is in her writing. You have to appreciate the subtle writing and the hints of other books she includes, including many of the classic mystery writers. After reading this for the first time I HAD to locate a copy of "Three Men in a Boat", and I'm very glad I did (also available on Audible). She also has brought to life two of the BEST animal characters in literature, I dare you not to want an English bulldog after reading this book, and, needless to say, she has captured the cat personality perfectly. But, more than the great characters, animal and human, this is a book that opens your mind to the thought that small actions can have consequences beyond our imagining. A delightful listen or read that you will return to time and again!
Great story with dry british wit and a great story that kept you engaged. If you are not a big SF fan, you will still love this book. If you have read any Woodhouse stories, these are similar but updated.
I kept remembering the things I liked about the Hitchhikers series years ago. Not wacky in the way that was, but a great entertaining read with good wit and a story you wanted to pay attention to.
The beginning of the book when the hero first returns to victorian times and isn't quite adjusted jet.
In the future, there is a time-travel company and in this case they travel back in time. Time travel in the first place can be funny, and this book explores it all (except doppelgangers). The story is long, a great deal for 1 credit. This book has the same silly, slapstick humor similar to the old "Arsenic and Old Lace" movie. I can't imagine any other narrator, it would NOT be the same. I am sitting here giggling as I write this review. This is the first Connie Willis book that I have listened to and it will be not be the last. It makes me happy just thinking about it. Good, clean, clever humor without swear words or graphic sex.
I can't imagine any book that would not be improved by this narrator.
Hmmm.....although he was more Edwardian, there was a Wodehousian quality to a lot of the dialogue and the funny situations with eccentric, mostly idle characters in a country manor house. If Plum had written sci-fi or time travel fiction, he might have ended up with something very like this, only somewhat funnier. But this was still very droll, very charming.
I would say Terrence, the literary quote-tossing romantic. He reminded me a lot of Young Bingo Little.
Can't come up with one.
Love this narrator, and would listen to him read the train tables.
I ordered this on a whim and had no idea how much I would enjoy listening to the story. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the length of the narration but as I listened I was sucked in and couldn't get enough. It has a good mix of comedy, Victorian era grace, mystery and suspense. Oh and I love Cyril and Princess Arjamund. Good listen!
I really liked this story, although, it did take me a bit to feel captured by it. It was quirky and a bit silly in the way that is entertaining. I could see it being played out in my mind as I listened. I did feel that I always knew what the characters were trying to figure out. Then you just keep feeling the anticipation of their own revelations of what was really going on.
I would recommend it to a friend who likes the whole time travel idea, although, that all seemed like a side note to the developing love story.
Good book. I very much enjoy listening to these Oxford Time Travel books. I hope the next two are as good as the first two.