To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop's

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 BoatWhen 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


10 thoughts on “To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last

  1. says:

    If ever there was a symphony as book Beethoven's 8th? it would be this one Like a symphony To Say Nothing is a wonderful composite that is almost impossible to deconstruct In many books there might be a chapter that stands out whether due to brilliance or failure this is largely a harmonious excellently written whole with only one or two incongruous passages near the end Then there's the writing amazingly developed and interwoven it takes a number of disparate themes and juxtaposes them Like a flute soaring above the rest of the orchestra there are playful little giggles throughout largely due to reoccurring motifs Particular favorites include Ned's bemusement at hearing anarchoristic words poppycock and drat unfortunate couples that end in disaster Ned's inability to read a Roman numeral pocket watch I dozed off again at half past V and the fickleness of cats There are serious undertones and a sense of urgency the characters need to achieve their personal mission but are also extremely concerned about their detrimental impact on history And to be completely honest like a symphony one needs to be in the mood and willing to pay attention otherwise it just becomes so much soporific background noiseThe almost impossible summary in the year 2057 Lady Schrapnell is there a perfectly named character? has come to England determined to rebuild Coventry Cathedral where her exponentially great grandmother experienced a life changing event In her zeal she's determined to make every detail perfect God is in the details and has enlisted the Temporal Physics department of the University to make it happen The story is told by temporal historian Ned Henry who has most recently been in 1940 looking through the burned ruins of the Cathedral for the 'bishop's bird stump' a hideous paragon to the lack of Victorian taste It did however have twining ivy and a bas relief of either Noah's ark or the battle of Jericho His partner pulls him back to normal time when it is discovered he's suffering from time lag evidenced by one of the first symptoms of time lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold sober His interview in the Infirmary always makes me laugh Infirmary nurses usually resemble something out of the Spanish Inquisition but this one had an almost kindly face the sort an assistant torturer might haveNed is sent to 1888 with the dual purpose of recovering in the pastoral Victorian English countryside and returning an object to 1888 restore an incongruity and preserve the historical timeline He meets an Oxford undergrad Terence and takes a idyllic boat ride down the Thames with him only to discover Terence is intent on meeting a new infatuation Lady Schrapnell's greats grandmother Tossie While she has not attained the bossy demeanor of Lady S she nonetheless has almost everyone falling in line with her ridiculous plans that include a seance and a jumble sale What follows is a comedy of errors as the time traveling historians attempt to keep the young would be lovers separated The historians are convinced Tossie needs to fall in love with an unknown man with the initial 'C' and begin combing the countryside for eligible and not so eligible bachelors Accompanying them is a genuine Oxford don distracted by fish and history a tenacious and fierce bulldog named Cyril and a black cat As cats are extinct in the modern era poor Ned is particularly unskilled in managing themI set her down and she walked a few feet across the grass and then took off like a shot and disappeared round the corner of a wall I told you so Cyril saidWell don't just stand there Go after her I saidCyril continued sittingHe had a point Our chasing after her in the woods hadn't been a roaring success Well what do you suggest then?He lay down his muzzle against the milk bottle and it wasn't a bad ideaA caveat this is not hard or traditional science fiction The most science fiction like aspect supposes that time travel is possible but only in ways that don't effect the past or allow travelers to bring objects into the future The field is known as temporal physics and it while it is still being explored incongruities artificial changes to the timeline could theoretically could alter the course of history or if it were severe enough destroy the universe Luckily for us the universe is self repairing and has lines of defense that might manifest as an increase in coincidental events We learn this in brief scenes between the time travelers and it's artfully doneCharacterization is wonderfully done The historians are well developed and multi dimensional I confess I especially love Cyril who is completely dog like but provides a silent foil for Ned's thoughtsWhile I recognize the style and pace won't appeal to everyone especially the action adventure reader I'm ridiculously fond of this book I've re read it numerous times especially when I want to be in a book holding pattern reading something familiar and enjoyable that didn't keep me up until 2 am reading I've read it so many times that I find myself quoting it even if no one else gets my references In fact I once slightly embarrassed myself by exclaiming a genuine Oxford don courtesy of the passage I sat there watching him examine the fish and marvelling at what we'd caught A genuine eccentric Oxford don They're an extinct species too Well he was a genuine eccentric don after all he studied voodoo and death practicesAnyone who reads my reviews knows I have a fondness for the well turned phrase but while I often smile reading this book the humor is built up over repeating passages rather than the the standard quip This is gentle suspenseful silly romantic and sophisticated reading Filled with literary references and philosophizing on the importance of individuals in history versus scientific principles someone with a classic background might best appreciate the wide ranging references but despite my own infirm education I didn't find them inaccessible If you enjoy Bertie Wooster Shakespeare Agatha Christie and Lord Peter mysteries history gentle comedic romance and literary references the sly wit in this book will keep you entertained Cross posted at March 2016