Wednesday, February 12, 2014
#8 [2014/CBR6] "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis
It's probably not surprising to anyone that I heard about To Say Nothing of the Dog [Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump At Last] (1998) by Connie Willis from another Cannoball review. Time travel and science fiction aren't my go-to genres but the review was more than convincing enough for me to expand my normal boundaries. This was an impressive work: a mixture of romance, mystery, and science-fiction with the clever, lighthearted feeling of a P.G. Wodehouse novel.
After traveling back to 1940 to try to locate the bishop's bird stump, Ned Henry finds himself ordered back to Victorian times. He needs to recover from his excessive time traveling and return something that was accidentally brought back into the future. The entire space-time continuum depends upon him not messing this up.
Ned Henry travels to Victorian times unprepared, not knowing where he is or what's expected of him. He blunders through his encounters, making the best of his situation while he tries to figure out what is required of him. There is a cat, a partner, a very quirky professor, a suitor, unrequited love, and lots and lots of history. The characters are fun and memorable although a couple of them seem a little over the top.
I was impressed by Willis's ability to thread so many things together and keep the book not only understandable but interesting. The more I think back on it, the more I appreciate what she was able to accomplish. BUT, and I'm sorry I have to add this, but after reading the glowing reviews I was a little disappointed. A couple things kept me from feeling too involved with the plot or characters. First, the story sets itself up as a mystery about the Bishop's bird stump along with the mystery of what's going on with the time traveling. The problem I had was that I was not particularly interested in either--especially the bird stump. I didn't know what the bird stump was and I didn't really care whether it was found or not. More than anything I was surprised that the historians were risking so much for the whim of one crazy, rich lady.
The other issue I had was that the mystery felt primarily propelled by the author coyly keeping information from me. I was irritated initially when I was introduced to this new world by a man who was so out of it he had no idea what was going on. I also got a little tired of the odd professor lecturing me about history when I was more interested in the story. I did not fully appreciate how the Professor's musings about history informed the time travelers and how they were affecting history themselves. Despite these minor complaints, I did enjoy this book. It was well-written, original, and clever.