Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

Published 1998


Fair warning, I’m about to gush over this almost perfect novel.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is both silly and sophisticated, complex and light. It’s the ideal blend of history, romance, time travel, and comedy. Willis’ unique book has quickly earned a spot on my favorite books list.

The plot itself is a little hard to explain. In the 2050’s, a group of historians at Oxford use time travel to gather research for various projects. Their latest-funded by a wealthy but demanding benefactress-involves the building of a replica of Coventry Cathedral. Our narrator Ned has been sent on so many time drops back to the 1940’s-to view the original cathedral before it was bombed and to search for a hideous missing artifact-that he is suffering from a severe case of time-lag. He needs somewhere to rest and recover and Victorian England seems like the perfect place. After all, the Victorian era was a more quiet and peaceful time, right?

Instead of long naps, restorative cups of tea, rambling country strolls, and drifting on the river, Ned encounters dangerous games of croquet, overturned rowboats, seances, hectic church bazaars, and a missing cat that may have disrupted the entire space-time continuum. What’s more he may be in love with Verity, his time traveling colleague. But was what he felt really love at first sight or merely a side effect of time-lag? And have Ned and Verity irreparably altered history?

There are so many ways in which this novel could have gone horribly wrong. Instead, Willis expertly juggles all of the various threads and elements with perfect precision. She makes even the complex time travel coherent and easily understood. Her writing and dialogue are engaging and her characters are dynamic and three dimensional. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in this comedy of errors, and a few swoon-worthy ones as well.

Willis includes perfect period details- it’s clear she has a deep understanding of and interest in the Victorian era, as well as history in general. I loved all of her literary references sprinkled throughout too. If done well, I think this would make such a wonderful movie.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a gem of a novel. I loved being immersed in this world, and I didn’t want to turn the last page. I will certainly be reading the other books in the Oxford Time Travel series.


11 thoughts on “Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

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      1. It’s been a while since I read it. I don’t remember it being especially dark but the tone of To Say Nothing of the Dog does sound much lighter. (I don’t know if that made sense!)

        Liked by 2 people

    1. There are so many! The narrator Ned makes many references to events in “Three Men in a Boat,” and even passes the characters on the river. Each chapter begins in the same way as the chapters in Jerome’s novel-with a humorous list that summarizes that chapter’s events. Willis clearly loves TMIAB and definitely pays homage to it throughout her novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I also love this book. Because it has a time travel element it is usually classed as science fiction, which is a shame, as it may put a lot of people off, and is probably why it is not better known.
    The only thing that slightly irks me is that she did not get an English editor to check it over – hearing Victorian Britons using modern American language is a bit irritating, but is a minor quibble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s Sci-Fi classification is exactly why it’s not as well-known. Honestly, it’s probably the reason it took me so long to discover the novel as well.

      I agree about the modern language being a bit jarring, but like you say it’s a minor issue in a wonderful book. I hope To Say Nothing of the Dog will get more attention in the future!


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