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To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last | [Connie Willis]

To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last

In this Hugo-winner from Connie Willis, when too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.
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Publisher's Summary

Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

Delightfully aided by the perfect comedic timing of narrator Steven Crossley, To Say Nothing of the Dog shows once again why Connie Willis is one of the most talented writers working today.

©1998 Connie Willis; (P)2000 Recorded Books

What the Critics Say

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 1999

"Willis effortlessly juggles comedy of manners, chaos theory and a wide range of literary allusions [with a] near flawlessness of plot, character and prose." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Karen 07-09-09
    Karen 07-09-09 Member Since 2008
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    "great"

    Great ...very funny...I'm so glad I found this author...

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott 05-12-08
    Scott 05-12-08 Member Since 2015

    Glass Artist listening to books while I work, that means all day long. Creative books with deep characters going through experiences while unveiling the world is what I like.

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    "fun and wonderful story"

    the story has a little of everything and flows great.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte Pleasant Grove, UT, United States 02-15-09
    Charlotte Pleasant Grove, UT, United States 02-15-09 Member Since 2013
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    "Humor on half speed"

    I love this book; I have a hard copy and have read it four or five times. This reading, however, is so slow that when I turned my iPod to 'fast' play it almost sounded normal! The deliberate, plodding pace completely wrecked all of the humor I so love in this book. I hope audible gets a new reading of this, one a bit more lively.

    4 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson 05-04-13
    Jefferson 05-04-13 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

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    "A Lengthy Time Travel Detective Comedy of Manners"

    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.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
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    Juniper Katz 06-26-09
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    "Funny but tedious"

    This book made me smille more than once, but overall the story was so trivial and seemingly endless I would have switched to a different book if I had one at the time.
    The writing is good, but the story is mediocre.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Braine Dublin, Ireland 05-07-14
    John Braine Dublin, Ireland 05-07-14 Member Since 2015

    J.

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    "Not enjoyable"
    Would you try another book from Connie Willis and/or Steven Crossley?

    No!


    Has To Say Nothing of the Dog turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Yes. Comedy sci-fi is such a chancey area. When it's not genuinely funny it's just painful.


    Any additional comments?

    God I'm glad that's over. I tried to enjoy this but it just wasn't entertaining or interesting enough for me. The story was just about worth persevering to the end. But I still didn't enjoy it overall. I just got more bored the longer I persevered. I really must remember not to persevere, regardless of story, if you're not enjoying the characters or the author's voice in general, when you're 1/3 way, that is not going to change regardless of the story.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eliza NC, United States 12-19-13
    Eliza NC, United States 12-19-13 Member Since 2010

    thoughtful reader/listener/viewer

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    "Well worth a listen"
    What made the experience of listening to To Say Nothing of the Dog the most enjoyable?

    It is funny! But most of all, hearing it read through helped clarify some elements I had missed in my own silent reading. It's a long, complex book about TIME TRAVEL, so there are a lot of details. This reading was stellar.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Did I say it was funny? Perhaps I'm experiencing Difficulty In Distinguishing Sounds (a symptom of time lag). Also enjoyed all the allusions to other literature, starting with THREE MEN IN A BOAT (TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG) and ending with GAUDY NIGHT.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The bombing(s) of Coventry Cathedral--Willis creates suspense even when you know something of the outcome.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Not possible, but it was quite enjoyable.


    Any additional comments?

    TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG has it all--science fiction, mystery, romance, humor, action, and more. At times, you may feel you don't know what's happening. Just go with it. All will be revealed. You'll be glad you did.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steph United States 08-01-13
    Steph United States 08-01-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Victorian Science Fiction fun- Fantastic Narrator!"

    The book is fun. The narrator is fabulous, and it leaves you feeling good. What more could one ask for?

    If you are a Connie Willis fan I rank this above 'The Doomsday Book,' and only slightly under 'All Clear' and 'Blackout.' I think the only reason I rank it slightly lower than the other two is because I prefer World War II history. The book is a perfect piece for Victorian England. It is full of class structure, ladies having the audacity to want to read books and become modern rather than focus on the latest gossip at tea and discuss the creation of a new frock. While you are experiencing this it is also being experienced by time traveling historians on a chase to find an artifact and return items that should not have been removed from the past. It could or could not disturb the balance of the space time continuum.

    ...think period piece/mystery novel/science fiction. Sounds fun, right? Well, it is. Not so science fiction that you would liken it to Dr. Who but you do get to play around with the "wibbly wobbly timey wimey" stuff. There is a lot of Brittish humor and the book makes fun of its self. This is something I appreciate in an author.

    Steven Crossely really did a fantastic job. This one I had with whispersync and I would definitely go audible. Tossie is a bit annoying and silly but Connie Willis intends her to be so and his interpretation of Dunworthy is award winning.

    A bit of a warning, however, if you don't particularly like brittish humor or get bored with period pieces this may not be for you.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Libby Chicago, IL 03-24-13
    Libby Chicago, IL 03-24-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Sci Fi + Victorian England = Awesome"

    I love this book. I love the characters. I love the complicated and twisting plotlines. I love all of the literary illusions. I even love the fact that the main character's primary motivation involves finding a hideous piece of Victorian knickknack-ery.

    I love it so much that I turned it on during a car trip thinking it would go over well with everyone. It didn't - 3 out of the 4 people in the car couldn't get past the voices Steven Crossley gives to the Victorian female characters. Ah, well. It's really too bad that they hate fun so much!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lavi Jerusalem, Israel 01-07-13
    Lavi Jerusalem, Israel 01-07-13 Member Since 2015

    shpigi

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    "lost interest half way through"

    I wasn't interested in it as a science fiction novel but I did get interested in the idea of the time travel system "protecting" the travelers from doing something "bad" in terms of chronicity.

    At some point I got bored with the type of humor (in spite of it reminding me of the three man in boat book which I read long ago) and the story did not captivate me so when that time of the month arrived (for a new credit, what did you think !), I stopped, about half way, and moved to a different book.

    Maybe I'll get back to it.. It seems you can restart listening from any point and not feel like you are missing any information.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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