To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
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.